Augusta St. name change meets ire
Carter Newman was the local boy among the tight-knit contingent that won back-to-back NCAA golf championships for Augusta State. Bringing those titles to his hometown school was a source of great pride, he said. He may shudder the next time he looks in the record books, though.
The titles can’t be taken away, but history may soon show a new name for the 2010 and 2011 NCAA Men’s Division I golf champions. Augusta State is in the midst of a controversial name change. Newman, like many in this east Georgia city synonymous with golf, stands firmly on one side of the debate.
“I grew up in Augusta, and I had great pride playing for Augusta State,” said Newman, of nearby Evans, Ga. “I can tell you right now, I wouldn’t have stepped foot on campus if it was named Georgia Regents University.”
Georgia Regents will be the new name of the institution borne from a merger of Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences University, also located in Augusta. The consolidation was approved earlier this year, and a new name must be submitted Oct. 1 to an accrediting agency. Georgia Regents was approved by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents.
It's not clear whether the change can be undone, despite widespread opposition. Regent University in Virginia has given notice that it will file a trademark-infringement lawsuit against the University System of Georgia Board of Regents.
Meanwhile, the ire of students, alumni and Augusta citizens builds. William S. Morris III, publisher of The Augusta Chronicle and a former chairman of the state’s Board of Regents, has resigned from a board at Georgia Health Sciences University, expressing his disappointment with GHSU president Ricardo Azziz and calling for the school to be renamed with "Augusta" in the title. Morris also is an Augusta National Golf Club member.
Opponents claim a lack of public input and point to the name’s poor performance in polling and the removal of "Augusta" from the school’s name.
“It sounds like an online college,” Newman said. “I don’t know how they could have messed it up any more.”
University of Augusta was the top vote-getter in polling, according to the Chronicle. Georgia Regents didn’t rank among the top three.
Josh Gregory, who coached Augusta State to the 2010 and 2011 NCAA titles before returning to his alma mater SMU as coach, called the proposed name “a disrespect to the city of Augusta and the alums of Augusta State.”
Kevin McPherson, who replaced Gregory as head coach last year, declined comment through a university spokesman.
Athletic director Clint Bryant said in a statement: "I'm excited about having a name for the new university and starting a new era for our Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. We will compete as Augusta State University for the 2012-13 academic year, and we look forward to competing as Georgia Regents University beginning with the Fall 2013 semester. The Jaguar Nation will remain strong, and we will remain unified throughout the consolidation of these two great universities."
The new name is supposed to reflect the combined university’s role as a national institution. Augusta State, with an enrollment of about 6,500 students, was considered a “commuter school” with a student body primarily composed of local residents. Augusta State’s golf team relied heavily on international players for its success, though. The school’s name attracted those international players, many of whom commit to the school without visiting campus.
“That name alone ... was a huge recruiting tool,” Gregory said. “Augusta is perhaps the most famous small town in the world. I don’t think it’s farfetched to say that. I’ve advised Kevin to continue to recruit to Augusta State University, because that’s what it is.”
Australia’s Mitch Krywulycz, who played on the 2010 and 2011 national-championship teams, said he might not have visited campus during a trip to Georgia if "Augusta" weren’t in the school’s name.
“When it’s Augusta State, you think of the Masters and all of the tournaments Greg Norman lost, as an Australian,” Krywulycz said. “I don’t like to admit it, but it would’ve been different (if the name had not been Augusta State). I probably wouldn’t have come.”
Two of Augusta State's four players who appeared at the 2010 and 2011 NCAAs, Krywulycz and Sweden’s Henrik Norlander, are foreign-born. Olle Bengtsson of Sweden played in the 2011 national championship. Past international stars at Augusta State include Oliver Wilson, Jamie Elson, Wallace Booth, Kalle Edberg and Scott Jamieson. Wilson tweeted, “Is it true that Augusta State University is being renamed to Georgia Regents Uni? I really hope not, sounds awful.”
A jaguar is the school’s mascot, but Gregory had the team’s uniforms bear an "A" logo and the word "Augusta" to increase the connection between the school and its host city.
“We were playing for more than our university. We were playing for Augusta,” Gregory said.
The school’s athletic teams will compete as Augusta State in 2012-13. Barring an unforeseen reversal, they will play under the new name next season, though. Record books retroactively will reflect the new name, according to the NCAA. Newman called that “extremely, extremely heartbreaking.
“We didn’t play for Georgia Regents. We played for Augusta State.”
Future members of the school’s golf team may not be able to say the same thing.