By Mary Lynn Bahr, Associate Editor
Hoping to energize the official image of Cougar sports, the BYU Athletics Department has kicked off the 1999-2000 season with a new identity system.
This year BYU's teams are full of fresh faces--and they're not all new recruits. On Aug. 16 men's and women's athletics unveiled an updated identity system for Cougar sports, complete with new logos and deeper shades of blue. The cougar now wears a fierce expression, and many of the marks incorporate a mountain silhouette. More important than the design specifics, staffers say, is the fact that BYU athletics will finally have a unified, consistent--and, they think, classy--set of images. Believe it or not, until now Cougar sports have never had an established, consistent symbol. Even after the first official logo was designated 15 years ago, teams frequently came up with their own symbols and lettering, and you could find Cougar uniforms in a wide spectrum of blues. The BYU Bookstore and other vendors produced so many variations of BYU merchandise that most alums could not pinpoint the university's official brand. With all that inconsistency, and with the old symbols starting to look dated, athletics leaders wanted an identity system that would make a stronger statement for the university. Now, after years of research and negotiation, BYU has chosen athletic logos that administrators believe will represent the university well. The designs incorporate BYU's traditional symbols--the cougar and the block Y--with added features, including images of Utah's mountains and logo variations for children. Rondo Fehlberg, former director of men's athletics, says the new marks will "give the entire university a common rallying point." Coaches and athletes have already expressed resounding approval of the new designs and darker color. Of course, their excitement won't necessarily make the transition easier for alums who love the older logos and brighter blues. Initial responses to the changes will be varied and probably emotional. But administrators are hoping fans will give the new set of symbols a chance.
"We realize that a lot of people when they first see it will say, 'Oh, I don't know if I like that,'" says Val Hale, BYU's new athletic director. "We just hope people will be patient because we're sure it will grow on them." Sure, approval may grow as fans get comfortable with a new look. But it's hard not to mourn the passing of a favorite icon. THE WILD BLUE YORE The "cougar reaching into the U" logo that has characterized BYU sports for the last 15 years will soon be a relic--but he'll have good company. Archival photos showcase many iterations of Cougar identity, including some sports fashions that may seem wildly funny today. Some mid-century teams wore stripes that resemble the costumes of today's referees. Since plastic replaced leather, BYU football helmets have been white, silver, blue, and plastered with stickers. And in the last two decades, the shorts worn by basketball and volleyball teams have undergone more than generous expansion.
Like the styles, the colors and insignia of BYU uniforms have changed with the cultural seasons. Jason Bushnell, an MBA student from Philomath, Ore., dug through the university's photo archives and discovered that before 1985 BYU had no official athletic logo. "Before then it was just whatever they felt like or whatever looked cool at the time," says Bushnell, who works for BYU's athletic marketing area. Track and gymnastics uniforms from the 1970s, for example, displayed a block Y wrapped in ribbon and flames. The solitary block Y is one of the earliest and most common team labels, but athletes have worn "Cougars," "BYU," "Brigham Young," and even "Mormons" emblazoned across their chests at various angles. And inconsistency is not just a thing of the past: At the June 1999 NCAA outdoor track and field championships, BYU's men's team wore a torchlike logo with a flame above the Y, while the women's team sported a logo with a climbing cougar.
Of course, a scrapbook of extinct insignia can't come close to capturing the essence of BYU sports. Who was looking at the logo on the sidelines when Jim McMahon threw that long, last-second pass to complete BYU's miraculous run to victory in the 1980 Holiday Bowl? Who remembers what was written on Dick Nemelka's basketball uniform in 1966, when he and his teammates were NIT champs? What spectator could identify the colors the women's volleyball team wore in 1973, when they placed second in the nation? And who noticed the lettering on the cap football coach LaVell Edwards wore when his team won the 1984 Holiday Bowl and clinched the national championship?
The memorable moments are what matters. Yet while they know the design details aren't half as important as simple team loyalty, administrators believe a successfully redesigned identity system could give teams, fans, and media a more consistent and instantly recognizable image of the university.
RALLYING THE BLUE BLOODS
One element that became clear early on was the primacy of the Provo mountains. "For many alums, their most striking memory of BYU and of the campus is the way we sit right here at the base of such dramatic mountains," Fehlberg explains. "We wanted to capture some of that feeling and some of the loyalty that's tied to the strength of the mountains."
Athletics leaders also wanted BYU's mascot to make a stronger statement for Cougar teams. The cat in the new logos is considerably more expressive--and more feisty--than past renditions. "We didn't want the cougar to be overly mean-looking, but we wanted it to have this element of intensity or fierceness," Hale says. "If you look at the statue in front of the stadium, you'll see where this logo evolved from."
Incorporating time-honored symbols was only part of the task, however. Another factor administrators considered was BYU fans' reluctance to wear bright royal blue. "We've been trying for a long time to get our fans to wear blue to our games," Hale says. "Unlike other universities, where they wear the school colors with pride, if you go to a BYU athletic event you'll find the whole rainbow of colors."
The decision to officially darken Cougar blue was driven in part by ticket holders' preferences for darker blues--preferences that are obvious in sales records for BYU apparel and in the stands on game days. Administrators are hoping the change to a more wearable blue will turn BYU's typically motley stands into monochrome cheering machines.
NEW BLUE IMPRINTS
The end result of all the evaluation and negotiation is an updated identity system that will represent the university well, officials say. "It's a whole new, fresh package," says John C. Lewis, associate advancement vice president for marketing. "This does a great job of communicating who we are."
The package includes primary marks that spell out "Brigham Young University" and "Cougars," making team identity unmistakable. In the past BYU coaches chose their teams' uniforms and lettering independently, but "now both men's and women's athletics will be in the same font, the same logos across the board," says Bev Utley, BYU's licensing and trademark protection administrator.
Fans will see the new marks on licensed BYU merchandise, on television coverage of BYU sports, in the Marriott Center, and in Cougar Stadium.
In the first two games of the season, Cougar gridders took on Washington and Colorado State in nationally televised contests that gave fans a good gaze at BYU's updated logos and colors in action. Perhaps the most talked-about elements of the change are the new football uniforms, dramatically redesigned by Nike. Fehlberg says that by creating stunningly different uniforms, Nike has made BYU "their NCAA poster child in the same way they did the NFL's Denver Broncos two years ago."
Some Denver fans didn't love their team's uniforms at first, Hale says, but a lot of former skeptics now say the Broncos have the best uniforms in the NFL. He's hoping BYU's new athletic designs will win over skeptical fans in a similar fashion.
"We think that by the end of the year--if they just give it a chance--they will really like it," he says.