- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2003

The Minuteman may not pass muster in Massachusetts.Officials at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst hope to replace their Colonial mascot with a gray wolf this fall. Apparently, a white guy in homespun, with tricorn hat and shootin’ iron is making people nervous.”Well, the Minuteman is a male. There is the gender issue, and the ethnicity. Some have brought up the appropriateness of firearms,” Ian McCaw, athletic director for the university, said yesterday. “But these questions arise, you have to address them, and I think this is a healthy process. What can we do? Create a genderless Minuteman?”This makes the third mascot name change. The university switched its original “Aggies” moniker to “Redmen” in 1948, and to “Minutemen” in 1972. Athletes on the school’s 12 female sports teams are known as “Minutewomen.”Beyond all the societal sensitivities, though, the Minuteman has not proved a compelling brand name — annual sales on licensed merchandise have dropped from $400,000 to $100,000.It is a worrisome reality in the collegiate marketing arena. In the race for donations, funds, news exposure and T-shirt sales, schools must have catchy images.Chancellor John Lombardi supports the review of the old mascot, noting that such change is common among universities. Some students revile the Minuteman because he is too old-fashioned or “sexist,” one coed said. But many UMass. students and alumni disagree.”The Minuteman transcends the gender issue into a higher form of idealism,” said a recent student editorial in the campus paper. “We, as students, personify this same idealism. … We are the Minutemen, a name synonymous with independence and fighting for what’s right. We are not named after fruit, or reptiles or anyone who wears shirts sized XXXL.”Meanwhile, alumni who have coughed up $100,000 for a Minuteman statue are not pleased. Letter-writing and phone-calling campaigns have been organized; several online polls reveal that more than 90 percent of the respondents want the Minuteman to stay at his post.”Opinions are all over the place,” said student Matt Sacco. “Kids from Massachusetts generally appreciate the Minuteman because they grew up hearing about him. They know who Paul Revere is. People from out of state think the Minuteman is stupid. But if UMass. adopts a wolf, it’s going to look just like UConn.’s husky mascot.”The University of Connecticut is the school’s chief athletic rival.”The trick to selling merchandise,” Mr. Sacco observed, “is to have a winning team.”Athletic director Mr. McCaw, meanwhile, is polling public interest in other species, including bobcats, nighthawks, falcons, red foxes, mustangs and fishers, which are big, dark-furred weasels. Mustangs currently lead, followed by red foxes and nighthawks.”It’s less challenging to illustrate an animal than a person,” Mr. McCaw noted.This spring, the university paid New York-based Phoenix Designs $10,000 to offer Minuteman focus groups. The company has created new team names and logos for the NFL, Disney and a host of universities, including Harvard, Arkansas and Louisiana State.”We’re portrayed as trying to jam the wolf down people’s throats. That’s not the case. Ever,” Phoenix spokesman Jay Williams said yesterday.”A guy with a gun might not be considered so collegiate anymore,” he continued. “We want to create a brand which is consistently identifiable with the school in terms of its characteristics, attitude, colors. It’s a whole process, and we are still in that process.”Most universities, he said, “need to drive the licensing dollar. And most athletic directors are no longer ex-coaches. They’re in marketing.”Research will continue until the end of the month.”Sometimes, the whole politically correct thing can get a little crazy,” Mr. Williams said. “But what should we do? Depict a Colonial woman in a bonnet baking bread? That won’t work either.”

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