Before Daryl Gross's tenure as Syracuse University's athletic director began more than ten years ago, a man named Jake Crouthamel ran the sports scene at SU. The two men could not have been less alike, at least publicly. Crouthamel was as old school and traditional as Gross is brand-focused and glitzy. So it came as a surprise to many SU fans back in May of 2004 when shortly before his retirement Crouthamel announced that the school would do away with its traditional - if not official - team nicknames and simply call itself the "Orange".
I was not a fan of the decision when it was announced, but over the last decade I have somewhat reluctantly gotten used to the change. However, I think the time is right for SU to return to its roots and reinstate the Orangemen and Orangewomen nicknames.
To those of you who think I'm an idiot: You're probably right... but hear me out. I am a longtime Syracuse fan. I grew up in Central New York, graduated from SU, and have worked in Syracuse and Utica for the vast majority of my adult life. My earliest basketball memories are of the 1987 NCAA Tournament, which probably explains a lot about my fractured emotional state when it comes to SU hoops.
It probably also explains why I regard everyone from Indiana as a jerk.
Anyway, from birth until eleven years ago my favorite basketball team was called the Orangemen, and my favorite players wore "Syracuse" across their chests in that funky cursive font. Maybe that's why last season's throwback uniforms didn't bother me as much as other people, regardless of whether the tops and shirts were mismatched. I was just happy to see some threads that reminded me of my youth, even if we shall never speak of it again.
There is something unique about the Orangemen nickname. Grammatically, the name is like very few in collegiate or professional sports. It is plural, but without an 's' on the end. As a writer, you know what I dislike? A pro team nickname like the Heat, Magic, or Thunder. Is it singular? Is it plural? Why do I even have to think about it? With Orangemen and Orangewomen, you know where you stand. With Orange, it's far too nebulous. Is the nickname plural because it refers to a group of people? Is it singular because it is one entity? Do I need to shut up and move on? (The correct answer is A. I will NOT argue about this.)
There's also the history. The nicknames evolved organically over time after the university started wearing orange as its primary color way back in 1890. You see, the athletes wore orange, so they were the "Orange men" and "Orange women". Makes perfect sense to me. It has nothing to do with religion, or race, or any other factors that might have triggered a name change. I'm looking at you, St. John's. I can understand the desire to make the nickname gender-neutral. But doesn't the usage of Orangemen and Orangewomen accomplish the same goal? Unlike any of the "Lady" modifications to women's teams, the Orangewomen nickname isn't an add-on or an afterthought. It stands on the same level as its male counterpart. In my mind, Orangemen and Orangewomen have equal status.
So the change really came down to money, which should surprise absolutely no one. Nike pushed for the change, and SU acquiesced. That's pretty standard for the relationship between the company and the university, because money talks and tradition walks. That's why we get platinum jerseys and blue helmets and swoosh-clad statues a little more often than we should. SU talks a good game about how important tradition is, but is more than happy to set it aside if there are jerseys to be sold or recruits to be schmoozed. Don't even get me started on the whole #44 thing.
I liked the Orangemen and Orangewomen nicknames. They were a part of the fabric of our fandom for several generations. It's time to bring them back. It's time to #RestoreOrangemen.
Looking for a rebuttal? You'll find Sean's right here.