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Utah should have changed its nickname long ago

SALT LAKE CITY — There was a sigh of relief among Ute fans this week when athletic director Chris Hill said that, for the time being, there would be no logo change, which means no nickname change, either.

The issue is reviewed periodically, he said. So they're good for another few months. On the other hand, is this ever really going to go away? Just because nothing is changing today doesn't mean it won't change tomorrow.

Which is why the U. should never have nicknamed itself Utes in the first place.

Quick, call the Audubon Society and pick out a bird. The university should dump its nickname, and logo, not because it might offend someone, or because the Pac-12 would prefer it, or because a few self-aware faculty members want it removed.

It should change because Utah Utes is strange sounding (try saying it five times in succession) and few people outside the state even know what a Ute is anyway. The U. should have named itself the Red Hawks, Screeching Owls, Golden Eagles, Bobcats or Snow Geese long ago. Outsiders think "Utes" is a play on words, like the Connecticut Cons or the Nevada Nevs.

There's no better time to start a new marketing campaign than now, while forging a national identity.

It's true the circle-and-feather logo has been around since the 1970s. It makes for an excellent-looking sweatshirt or hat. But to say it's a tradition that can't be broken is forgetting that much of the circle-and-feather era at Utah involved truly terrible football.

A lot of the talk about changes includes the suspicion that the Pac-12 is involved. But Hill has said there has been no pressure from the conference.

Utah got permission years ago from the Ute tribe to use its name. It also got the OK from the NCAA, which threatened to withhold privileges from schools that maintain racially insensitive nicknames. Utah's endorsement by the tribe spared the university such a fate.

At the same time, the debate never ends. North Dakota is about to drop its Fighting Sioux nickname, though Spirit Lake, the Sioux reservation closest to the campus, supports the name. Illinois (Fighting Illini), Florida State (Seminoles) and Central Michigan (Chippewas) have all had issues.

It's not as though Utah has been inert in the nickname debate. It wisely switched from Redskins to Utes long before political sensitivity demanded it. Miami of Ohio had the same nickname and didn't make the change to Red Hawks until 1997 — 26 years after Utah got the message.

That was a smart move for Utah, but going from one Native American nickname to another wasn't. It should have known it would eventually have to defend and debate that, too. That's why, when Stanford went from Indians to Cardinal in 1972 — about the same time as Utah's change — it chose a color.

Not much chance of stepping out of bounds with that.

Some say changing the name would rob Utah of its identity. But Marquette went from Warriors to Golden Eagles without fading out. Same with St. John's switching from Redmen to Red Storm.

Name changes happen. The Washington NBA team went from Bullets to Wizards. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays became the Rays. Companies with time-honored brands do it all the time. Mountain Fuel became Questar, Utah Power became Rocky Mountain Power, Mountain Bell became U.S. West, which became Quest. Banks, dollar stores, airlines and grocery stores change their names after years of tradition.

Colleges can, too.

Utah should change its nickname because it's a distraction the university doesn't need. And because it can sell new merchandise. And because the old logo is actually starting to look a little dated. And because the Ute tribe isn't easily recognized, anyway. And because Utah Utes is a strange alliteration, like "Wascally Wabbits."

What it can't do is keep revisiting the issue into eternity.

Make the switch now, avoid stress later. Get a nickname it can keep forever.

The university will thank itself in five years.

Gooo Red Hawks.

Crimson, if you must.


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