KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee athletic director John Currie believes in the nickname Lady Volunteers, so he's bringing it back.
Currie said Thursday that athletes for all women's sports at the school can once again refer to themselves as the Lady Volunteers, reversing a decision made by his predecessor three years ago.
Former athletic director Dave Hart had announced in November 2014 that the Lady Vols nickname and logo would be phased out for all sports other than women's basketball, which got to keep the nickname because of the tradition it had established in winning eight national titles under former coach Pat Summitt.
That move took effect in July 2015 and coincided with Tennessee's switch from Adidas to Nike as its apparel provider.
Currie announced a plan to "restore the prominence" of the Lady Vols brand. The decision gives student-athletes the option to call themselves and their teams the Lady Vols. The school also will restore the Lady Vols logo to any Tennessee athletic venues that don't already post it.
"For some, the Lady Vol name and logo is just as meaningful and sacred as the checkerboard end zones are for others," Currie said. "How would the most passionate Tennessee football fan react to the dramatic diminishment of our Tennessee end zones? What emotions would be felt if the checkerboards were removed from Neyland Stadium?"
Before Hart's 2014 announcement, Nike conducted a brand audit of Tennessee that suggested maintaining the Lady Vols nickname and logo would be inconsistent with the university's "One Tennessee" theme. Currie said the decision to restore the prominence of the Lady Vols brand "has no negative bearing" on the school's partnership with Nike.
Hart's move to phase out the Lady Vols brand had drawn sharp criticism from certain segments of the fan base.
A petition to maintain the Lady Vols nickname and logo for all Tennessee women's sports launched soon after Hart's announcement and now has over 32,000 handwritten signatures. Tennessee Rep Craig Fitzhugh, a Democratic candidate for governor, held a news conference outside the Pat Summitt memorial on campus last week in which he vowed to work toward restoring the Lady Vols nickname for all Tennessee women's sports if elected.
Currie and Chancellor Beverly Davenport said they'd received numerous comments about the issue since taking over their respective positions earlier this year.
"Lady Vols to me is more than a brand and it's more than a logo," Davenport said. "Here's what I heard over and over again — this is our legacy, this is something that celebrates women, women's excellence, women's winning and women's hard-fought challenges to be on equal (footing) with men. It's much more of a celebration of that history and that legacy."
Mollie DeLozier, who helped organize the petition drive, said Thursday she was "delighted" by the school's decision.
Currie said Tennessee's official mark and logo for all of its teams will remain the solid orange "Power T," which was primarily associated with the Tennessee men's programs before Hart's decision. The Tennessee women's teams had their own logo that featured an orange outline of a white "T'' with the words "Lady Volunteers" in light blue.
The women's teams now also will have apparel options that include the Lady Vols branding and color scheme.
"I think it was a really good resolution," former Tennessee women's athletic director Joan Cronan said. "I really do."
How these teams handle that option remains uncertain. Women's soccer coach Brian Pensky noted that the phasing out of the Lady Vols nickname occurred before many of Tennessee's current women's athletes had enrolled.
"The Power T and all the athletes competing under that brand, I think that has become the way of the world here," Pensky said. "Not right or wrong, but that's what our kids know. Whether or not our kids are going to turn around and want more of the Lady Vol (brand), honestly I have no idea because I haven't had those conversations with them."
Whether or not the women's teams opt to call themselves the Lady Vols, Currie's announcement should provide closure to an issue that had garnered plenty of attention around Tennessee's campus the last few years.
"The good thing is it's not going to be a distraction anymore," said women's tennis coach Alison Ojeda, who played tennis for the Lady Vols from 1998-2002. "Unfortunately, it was a little bit (of one)."