Summit League axes acronyms to showcase big cities

September 21, 2012

An NCAA Division I conference composed of mostly Midwest teams has decided that alphabet soup isn't terribly appealing.

The Summit League chose this school year to refer to three of its teams by the university's last name in standings and media releases, in part to highlight the conference's metropolitan areas and to make the schools more recognizable nationally. Some schools want to make the changes permanent.

League officials will call the University of Nebraska-Omaha simply Omaha, the University of Missouri-Kansas City as Kansas City and Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne as Fort Wayne.

No more UNO, UMKC and IPFW - at first glance, anyway.

''It's one thing if you're UCLA,'' said league consultant Jeff Orleans, who worked on the new branding plan. ''But no one else can or needs to do that.''

The nine-team Summit League includes Omaha, Kansas City, Fort Wayne, North Dakota State, South Dakota, South Dakota State, Oakland, Western Illinois and the lone tongue-twisting holdout, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, or IUPUI.

As much as the league would like to eliminate a few vowels, referring to IUPUI as Indianapolis could conflict with their Division II neighbors, the University of Indianapolis.

''I know they would like to make a change, but I don't know if they have the solution yet,'' Orleans said of IUPUI.

Omaha has already completed its own rebranding campaign that offered an alternative to the UNO acronym, which also is used at the University of New Orleans. The Nebraska school bills itself as ''Omaha's team.'' The new look includes an ''O'' insignia to replace a hodgepodge of logos that were used by the Mavericks.

''For the 40,000 alumni who live in the greater Omaha area, we will always be UNO,'' said Dave Ahlers, Omaha's director of communications. ''But from more of a national perspective, it made more sense.

''People know Omaha. It's a lot easier to put that on a ticker,'' he said.

The UMKC chancellor and others associated with the university have suggested changing the official name of the school to Kansas City. There's similar discussion regarding IPFW, which is seeking to distinguish itself from Indiana and Purdue universities.

The Summit League's move follows the lead of other schools and conferences. The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay is now just Green Bay; its separate athletic website is Same goes for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which goes by Milwaukee, and the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.

''In this day and age,'' Ahlers said, ''shorter seems to be better.''

And bigger also can be better, league officials say. With the exception of USD, SDSU and Western Illinois, schools in the league are located in major metropolitan areas of 200,000 or more people. Kansas City is the only D-I athletics program in a 40-mile radius.

Since changing its name from the Mid-Continent Conference to the Summit in 2007, the conference has produced 54 All-Americans, 37 academic All-Americans and seven NCAA champions - five in track and field and two in swimming and diving. The league also offers baseball, basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball and tennis.

In the past seven seasons, Summit teams have been ranked nationally in six different sports, won NCAA regional championships in two sports and advanced to three NCAA championship tournaments.

''I am just incredibly impressed how those cities and those institutions matter in those regions,'' Orleans said.

Even so, Summit is considered a mid- to lower-major conference. Therefore, it needs to work harder to attract national attention than, say, Michigan or Alabama.

''I think everybody has that branding challenge,'' said NDSU assistant athletic director Troy Goergen, who handles the department's marketing. ''We're in the mode like a lot of schools are, trying to gain that notoriety.''