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University Name Changes and the Marketing Impact
The NAME is the GAME: University Name Changes and the Marketing Impact
Southwest Texas St. University Normal School was founded in 1903 in San Marcos, Texas. Fast forward one hundred years and the school is now named Texas St. In those 100 years, the school grew and went through a total of 5 name changes. You might look at some of the earlier changes and think to yourself that these changes were entirely linked to the growth of a school, as well as the upgrade from a traditional College to a University. The most recent change does not fit that pattern at all.
In 2003, Southwest Texas St. changed their name to Texas St. This move was not made because the school had gone through any monumental change. It was a name change with one thing in mind: marketing and re-branding the university. In a state where the collegiate scene is dominated by University of Texas (ever since the folding of the Southwest Conference which featured other Texas schools such as Texas A&M, Baylor, Rice, Houston, SMU and TCU), Texas St. has made an attempt to step in and take a coveted spot in the school-name game: The flagship State University. In the process they would follow a trend of schools in recent years and attempt to drop a directional school nomenclature such as southwestern.
When you look across the country y one will see that many of the states have two university systems. In Texas, you have the University of Texas system which includes the main campus in Austin, as well as satellite campuses in El Paso, Arlington, Dallas, San Antonio and 10 other locations. The Texas State University system includes such schools as Lamar University, Sam Houston St., and Sul Ross St. What has been missing in the landscape of the Texas schools had been a clearly defined Texas State. Since 2003, that void has been filled. Southwest Texas St. is now Texas State University-San Marcos.
The trend to change a schools name to fill a marketing void and capitalize on a brand is nothing new.
Historically, there have been a plethora of common name changes. Many had to do with the restructuring of school systems within each state. For instance, many of the older A&M schools (Agriculture & Mining, Agriculture & Mechanical Arts) became part of a State system. This is what happened to Colorado A&M which became Colorado St. in 1957. New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts became New Mexico State University in 1960. You will find many similar changes over the last 50 years with school names. At the time many of these such changes were made, it is difficult to determine if they were for any branding benefits or if they were for more simplistic reasons such as school system restructuring on a state level. In recent years, we have seen some more obvious changes.
An intriguing story can be found in the Bayou State. Louisiana is a state that much like Ohio, is dominated in the public eye by the premiere state university. Louisiana State University might have just as much political favor as they do fan favor. In 1984, Southwest Louisiana University, changed their name to the University of Louisiana with the blessing of the then Board of Trustees for State Colleges and Universities (now The University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors). As the largest school in the UL system, the name change made sense to most, but it did not hold up. Shortly after the name change was processed, The Louisiana Board of Regents filed suit with the Board of Trustees. Twenty-five days later, District Judge William H. Brown stripped the University of Louisiana name and forced them back to the Southwest Louisiana University name. The suit also removed the ability for future name changes by the Board of Trustees.
In order for any future name changes to take place, it meant compromise. And the only compromise to the seemingly impossible blockade by the Louisiana Board of Regents came in the form of Act 45. This compromise has been called the LSU Rule as it would force schools such as Southwest Louisiana University and Northeast Louisiana University to agree to put LSU on a virtual pedestal within the state of Louisiana. ACT 45 required that at least two state universities change their name at the same time and that all universities who change their name change it to University of Louisiana at [city designation]. It stipulated that the city designation must be used in all official university business and has since grown far beyond its original legislative language, to regulate minute details such as font sizes to be used by the respective universities. Additionally, the bill insisted that LSU was, and would remain, the flagship university of Louisiana. This was a strange legislative act with little tie-in to LSU or the LSU System. The act also changed the name of the Board of Trustees to the University of Louisiana Board of Supervisors.
In 1999, fifteen years after the first attempt at a name change, Southwest Louisiana University became the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and Northeast Louisiana University became University of Louisiana-Monroe. While the change was not entirely what USL was looking for, it did allow them to finally drop the directional school label.
Filling the Void in Missouri
When Texas St. came to be in 2003, it opened eyes at other institutions. A name change had been discussed in previous years by Southwest Missouri State, but had complications. Unlike the situation in Texas in which there were no other directional schools, Missouri had both Southwest Missouri State and Southeast Missouri State universities. That was not the biggest problem they faced. Like the University of Louisiana-Lafayette issue with LSU, SWMS had initially proposed a name change in 1985 as it was the second largest school in the state. SWMS was fortunate enough that despite oppositions by the University of Missouri State system, on March 1st, 2005, Southwest Missouri State formally changed their name to Missouri State University.
The benefits of some of these name changes can be seen in a few areas. Outside of athletics, these name changes have brought a stronger brand to the universities. Applications will continue to rise which should increase the academic standards from each university. When looking at athletics, there is a noticeable benefit as well. In recent years, we have seen the University of Louisiana-Monroe upgrade their football to FBS (formerly I-A) and join the Sunbelt Conference for all sports. Even Missouri State flirted with an upgrade to join the Sunbelt, with rumors of conversations that started without any announced formal upgrade by the school.
And in the past few weeks, Texas State has made strides to upgrade their football program to FBS, with a likely destination being the Sunbelt. When you see programs such as Boise St. and South Florida having impacts on the FBS level, it is not a stretch to say that 20 years from now Missouri St. and Texas St. could be fully upgraded and competing with the likes of Texas and Missouri.
What Does the Future Hold?
When you look across the country, any potential name changes are based entirely on opportunity and availability. These would usually require that a school participate in Division I athletics or planning an upgrade. There are some states that seem fairly covered, with a traditional system such as Mississippi, which has the University of Mississippi and a Mississippi State University. Most of the Western, Southern and Midwestern states already have the traditional spots occupied. But there are a few ideas worth taking a look at although none are very likely to happen.
No school is in a better position to take advantage of an opening than Central Connecticut State University. When you look at the 5 public schools other than the University of Connecticut, CCSU and their enrollment of 10,000 would be the best bet (WCSU has an enrollment of under 6000, SCSU at 6000, and ECSU at 5,000). As the second largest state school in Connecticut, the opportunity to gain more exposure for the state itself should be the push for the state legislature to rename the school Connecticut State University.
When you look at the role the athletic programs could play, the move becomes even more attractive. Central Connecticut State has a formidable FCS level football program. Their other sports participate in the Northeast Conference in which they are the only public school member. A name change could open doors for the school to join the America East Conference with regional members University of Maine, University of New Hampshire, Boston University, University of Vermont, Albany and others in the northeast.
There is already the University of California system with powerhouse universities such as California (the flagship campus in Berkley) as well as UCLA and even FCS football member UC-Davis. The California State system is a bit different. You have Sacramento State located in the state capital and San Jose St. not far away. You also have other larger schools in Fresno St. and San Diego St. When you look at the miniscule prospects of a PAC-10 expansion, it is unlikely that any of those schools would be considered. However, what if Fresno St. University or San Diego St. University petitioned to be officially renamed California State University. Such a move would over time change the perception of the individual school and could potentially allow the school to become part of the PAC-10. The PAC-10 already houses Washington & Washington St., Oregon & Oregon St., Arizona and Arizona St., both the FBS University of California schools and private schools Stanford and USC.
A small total number of schools. One should not expect candidates anytime soon.
Maryland is a state with some clear openings for a potential power player. In addition to the University of Maryland system with 3 Division I schools, there are a number of Division I state schools such as Coppin St., Morgan St, and Towson (formerly Towson State). Both Coppin St. and Morgan state are proudly entrenched in the MEAC conference, and both as distinguished as HBSU institutions. Towson has preformed some recent stadium upgrades and brought their football program to the CAA, itâ€™s home for all other sports. Towson could be a candidate for a Maryland St. name change if they ever brought it forward.
UMass actually started out as an agricultural school but eventually became the flagship of the University of Massachusetts system. There are 9 schools in the Massachusetts State College system, but none are Division I or likely candidates. Should any of the smaller state schools upgrade to Division I, perhaps we would see a Massachusetts State University.
Minnesota has only one flagship school in Division I, but has a number of schools in Division II , many of which currently operate in the Minnesota State system. Candidates for a Division I Minnesota State include Bemidji State University (4900 students), Concordia University (2069 students), University of Minnesota Crookston (2100 students), University of Minnesota Duluth (11000 students), Minnesota State University - Mankato (13800 students), Minnesota State University Moorhead (7600 students), Southwest Minnesota State University (3700 students), St. Cloud State University (15600 students), Winona State University (8270 students).
There are a number of candidates here that might seek upgrades to Division I athletics in the future. But the larger schools such as Minnesota St-Mankato and St. Cloud State would be the logical fit for a lone Minnesota State should they ever upgrade. Right about now you are probably thinking about the television show â€œCoachâ€.
The school currently has only the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Creighton University participating in Division I. While Nebraska-Omaha has discussed an upgrade to Division I, it has not happened yet. And if it did, the schools position within the University of Nebraska system would likely keep them out of contention for a Nebraska St. name change. Same goes for Nebraska-Kearney. Wayne St and Chardon State with roughly 3,000 students each are likely too small to upgrade and change their names. All four mentioned schools participate in Division II.
The state consists of the University of New Hampshire and a number of smaller colleges. Only Division II Southern New Hampshire holds a university label. With less than 2000 students, the school is just too small.
Already in a strange situation since the official state university is Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey. There is also the recent upgrade for NJ Tech. But without a true University of New Jersey system, an official UNJ is never going to happen. Many have called for a name change for Rutgers to the University of New Jersey or at least New Jersey St.. If this ever happened, it would open doors for schools like Monmouth and Rider to swipe the NJ State name. It is highly unlikely that such changes would ever happen.
It is a stretch to think that the UNLV school name would benefit from a change to Nevada St. There are not any other realistic options for Nevada.
While Ohio St. serves as the states flagship school, there is no traditional University of Ohio system. Ohio University in Athens is the closest to that distinction.
A small state with very few schools. Private school Bryant University is transitioning to Division I, but is not an option.
This is another state with a unique situation. There are 3 Division I schools in the UW system with the 4th Division school being private Marquette. There is only one Division II school in UW-Parkside and 25 schools that are Division III. Even if there were some reclassification of the Wisconsin school system, it is unlikely that any school would qualify for any renaming as Wisconsin St.
The University of Wyoming is the only Division I school or university in the state. In order for there to be any options, there would need to be some growth at some of the other schools in the state (Casper College-Casper, Central Wyoming College-Riverton, Eastern Wyoming College-Torrington, Laramie County Community College-Cheyenne, Northwest College-Powell, Sheridan College-Sheridan, Western Wyoming Community College). If there was any success at any of those schools, perhaps Wyoming State University could be born.