A new rumor is surfacing in Salt Lake City that the University of Utah will retire their “drum and feather” U logo. The change will begin after the Sun Bowl for their football team. It will likely take place for the remainder of their athletic teams after the academic year is completed.
For football, this will mark perhaps the greatest change in Utah athletic gear since the now storied logo was introduced in 1975.
It is apparent that the university has been attempting to slowly phase out the Native American symbol for some time. More red “block-U’s” have been appearing on athletic playing fields, floors and facilities in recent years.
Tradition vs. Progression
In recent years, college football—led by the University of Oregon and the checkbook of alumnus Phil Knight, of Nike fame—has shown a seemingly endless parade of new trends and weekly fashion shows.
One of college football’s weekly guessing games (beyond game outcomes) has been what uniform the Oregon Ducks will show up wearing—either at home in Eugene or on the road.
Not to be outdone in all this, Arizona State made a huge fashion change this past year. They retired their ageless “Sparky the Sun Devil” logo in favor of a slightly less devilish “pitchfork” logo.
This is merely part of a greater trend of a rebranding of various franchises in college sports. Newer and more lucrative TV contracts don’t just mean higher coaching staff salaries, but a greater budget for uniforms as well.
Logo changes get fans back into the stores to purchase new hats, hoodie sweatshirts and T-shirts.
Despite their overall academic similarities, the Big Ten has been almost a complete opposite to the Pac-12 when it comes to this rebranding trend. Some schools, like Michigan, have made only minor tweaks here and there over the years.
There has also been a “throwback” brand trend that Michigan and Notre Dame did earlier this year and that Ohio State has done in recent years.
Measured Departure Over Time
The Ute tribe and associated bands have all given the University of Utah their blessing in keeping the mascot and nickname. But moving away from Native American names has been an ongoing trend for years—and has even been encouraged by the NCAA.
Some changes are over-politically correct at times to the point that it’s been annoying. Yet, a slow but measured departure has been the right course over time.
Perhaps the Washington Redskins could put this plan to use. They obviously have the most offensive nickname of anyone in the professional leagues—no questions asked.
After all, it was during the 1970s that the University of Utah dropped the “Runnin’ Redskins” nickname for the “Runnin’ Utes.” Perhaps this is a further measured move. The “drum and feather” logo was patterned after Washington's NFL team.
The NFL has also influenced at least some college branding. BYU adopted their traditional logo and white helmet in 1969 after the New York Jets won the Super Bowl. The Iowa Hawkeyes have clearly patterned their brand after the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Big Mistakes to Avoid
In some instances, changing a logo or brand can be as bad for a college team as for a company. Coke-Cola messed with their flagship beverage two-and-a-half decades ago and recently with the color of their seasonal Christmas can. Both proved to be splendid disasters.
In 1999, BYU allowed Nike to make a very sudden change that ultimately turned into a disaster. It will forever be tied to the only losing records the Cougars have had since prior to LaVell Edwards.
BYU ended up reverting to the traditional design after Bronco Mendenhall succeeded Gary Crowton in 2005. They retained the darker shade of “dark royal blue” (as opposed to the “navy blue” of Utah State).
Utah will never be Oregon. The school doesn’t need a big checkbook-toting alumnus tied to Under Armour the way Phil Knight is to Nike.
Utah should always remember their colors are the “crimson red” and white. There have been times that I’ve observed Utah jerseys with far too much black, which was used for more than to accent numbers and stripes (Indiana University at times has been guilty of this as well).
The weekly fashion show is also something Utah does not need to advance their brand. They don't need to risk the mistake of the TDS (a slang reference to BYU developed by former coach Urban Meyer in 2003).
Under Armour isn’t known to be as eccentric in its uniform designs as Nike has been over the years. BYU made the mistake of allowing Nike too much latitude in its design. The design went beyond what they did for the Denver Broncos two years earlier.
The white “lobster-bib” feature of the home jersey was outlawed by the NCAA by the end of the year. A re-work of the jersey, introduced in 2004, made BYU look more like a Sun Belt Conference school.
What Utah and Under Armor Should Do
Utah should allow an occasional return of the “drum and feather” logo for a throwback jersey and continue to protect its trademark.
A throwback jersey game in the future should never be ruled out. I will even go so far as to propose that they look at this possibility for a BYU game. That game will likely not be a yearly event after 2012, due to scheduling conflicts.
The school should give Ute fans something to hold on to that will help them remember their BCS-busting teams of 2004 and 2008. They should remember their transition from a no-name in the WAC/MWC to a household name in the Pac-12.