Carolina to California: Will The Real USC Please Stand Up?

Todd Ellis #9, Quarterback for the University of South Carolina Gamecocks calls the play at the snap during the NCAA Independent Conference college football game against the University of West Virginia Mountaineers on 16 September 1989 at the Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, West Virginia, United States. The West Virginia Mountaineers won the game 45 - 21. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Allsport/Getty Images)

In college football, there are specific factors that define a team’s identity. The team colors, the uniforms, the coaching staff, the plays executed, the rankings, the stadium, the conference affiliation, the presence, the culture, the brand. All of which makes up what they are known for when you hear the team name. For two schools in particular, their identity is known by one thing: the USC logo.

Team Branding

While Oregon changes their uniforms more than a millennial changes their profile picture, Alabama is well-known for their uniform…uniforms. The Crimson Tide appearance has changed very little over the past century of football, with their basic helmets and jerseys. And while their classic look has not fared well with recruits from the current attention-obsessed generation, I’m sure Nick Saban would agree that Alabama’s trophy case certainly isn’t lined with their unis.

Speaking of National Champions, the Clemson Tigers have one of the most recognizable logos in college football, the Tiger Paw. In fact, the logo is not only trademarked, but it comes with very strict rules for use, including:

  • It must be tilted to one o’clock.
  • If it’s reproduced, it must be in either white (Fort Hill) or Clemson Orange.
  • When used in gray as a background element, no type or other graphics can be placed on top of it.
  • If printed in black and white, the Paw should be outlined with a fine black line, providing the Tiger Paw with a white background. Any other variations must be approved in advance by Trademarks and Licensing Office.
  • Registration ® mark must always be used.

No pressure, right? Which brings me to the other well-known university in South Carolina: The University of South Carolina.

The Gamecocks. The USC, as it is known within the state and the greater part of the Southeast, especially within the Southeastern Conference itself. However, there is that other USC…on the other coast. The University of Southern California. The USC logo has been under fire for several years between the two schools. It has even made it all the way to court to battle it out.

“Who’s on First?”

The University of South Carolina. USC. The University of Southern California. USC.

Let me just point out here, that both schools agreed in 1982 that each could use “USC” as a logo.

However, in 2008, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled in favor of the University of Southern California after a six-year dispute over the use of the “SC” logo. The use of the acronym on the South Carolina Gamecocks baseball team uniforms was the focal point of the case. In a 90-page ruling, it was outlined that Southern California had used the interlocking “SC” logo for a longer, continuous time. While Southern Cal had adopted its logo “no later” than 1967, South Carolina seemed to have abandoned its “SC” logo in 1982. The patent office also pointed out that South Carolina used different versions of the interlocking logo before adopting it again in 1997. Thus, ruling in favor of the West coast.

South Carolina put up a fight. It argued that its use of “SC” not only represented university, but the entire state, not to mention that its use predated the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, the patent office relied on the actual registration of the logo.

According to the ruling in 2008, it also found that if both schools kept using the “SC” logo, even though they were located on two different coasts, it would still cause a state of confusion. “Comparing the marks in terms of sound, we find that the marks are identical. Both would be pronounced as ‘SC,’” the ruling read. “Consumers encountering the marks for the first time might as well assume that both logos are different forms of ‘SC’ used by the same school.”

Fast forward a couple years to 2010, where a federal appeals court rejected the petition from the East Coast USC to use the acronym on the baseball team clothing for the USC Gamecocks. South Carolina again argued on the basis of confusion between the two schools if they both used the logo. A panel of three judges of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld a decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office review board to recognize the University of Southern California’s century-old claim to the logo letters. According to the subsequent ruling, it gave little weight to the argument because the schools were located on separate coasts and in different athletic conferences and, as a result, there had not been “any significant opportunity for actual confusion to have occurred.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m officially renaming USC as the University of Some Confusion.

Of Mice and Mental Exhaustion

This month, the University of South Carolina decided to rebrand its logo. Why? Trust me, as a Carolina sports fan, I ask that question a lot. Personally, I am not a fan of rebranding. I don’t even buy into the “new year, new me” garbage every year, much less altering or modifying anything that doesn’t need to be changed. Like I stated earlier, Alabama uniforms and the Tiger Paw logo seem to be doing just fine without any modifications. As we say in the South, “If it ain’t broken…”

On January 9th, South Carolina unveiled the new logo on its Twitter account. The “new year, new me” logo now includes the word “of”. In an article on reaction to the new logo, The Post and Courier said, “The focal point of the University of South Carolina’s new logo is not a palmetto tree, a stylized silhouette of the campus’s historic Horseshoe, or even a ferocious fighting gamecock. It’s the word ‘of.’” And wait…aren’t both schools technically UofSC? Needless to say, it did not go over well with fans, including yours truly.

Oh and let’s not forget that there is a distinction of the corresponding logos. There’s the formal logo, the marketing logo, the monogram, and the athletic logo, oh my!
Those also did not go over well.

Of Course

If this situation were a football game, the Gamecocks would be up by 21 points, only to come back after halftime and blow the lead and lose in true Carolina fashion. Since the court debacle several years ago, there has been little to no rumblings from the earthquake state in reference to the acronym logo. We had all let it go and moved on, while still sporting our old USC gear on any given Saturday.
And then Carolina says, “Hold my beer.”
In response to the unveiling of the new logo and its subsequent social media spanking, the official USC account tweeted, “We are competing for the best and brightest students across the globe, not just the ones in South Carolina. Data tells us that USC is not always associated with our brand and we can’t keep ignoring that.”
Then, the Trojan horse came knocking.

Carolina fans were not the only ones vocal about the monstrosity of the rebranding efforts. The Daily Trojan wrote, “For those who believe the University of South Carolina is the rightful owner of the abbreviated title “USC,”  I’m sorry to say they are simply wrong. The USC of Los Angeles has triumphed in ownership of its name.” Oy.
Wait, wasn’t South Carolina an established school before California was even an entire state? Why yes, yes it was. Oh, but it was called South Carolina College at first, you say? True, but it was renamed to the University of South Carolina over a decade before Southern Cal was even founded. While it’s true that the East coast university changed its name again before going back to USC, it undeniably had that acronym first. Shotgun!!
J.C. Huggins, is the director of Brand Strategy. He told The State, “Once they see it come to life throughout the semester, they’re gonna like it.” Ehh, I think fans will like it about as much as we do losing to that other university in the upstate. USC spokesman Jeff Stensland also said, “We’re realistic about the fact that many people won’t start saying ‘UofSC’ right away.” Yeah, don’t count your Gamecocks before they hatch there, Jeff.

Hail Thee Carolina

So what now? As a lifelong South Carolina local, a Gamecock alumnus and diehard fan, here is where I stand. The fact that this eyesore of a rebranding design costs the school $238,000 makes me feel like I really got cheated by my high school guidance counselor. I am fairly certain I’ve doodled a similar depiction of the new logo on a Calculus notebook at some point…when I was 14. Regardless, that SC high school education got me into the USC, the one with the horseshoe. My college class ring is engraved with the “USC” logo, and I have never been to California. When I wear my game-day gear, donning the USC logo, it’s in garnet and black, not cardinal and gold (a cardinal is a bird, right?). And when I lose my voice chanting our old fight song at games, the words are “Hail to our Carolina, we cheer forever, U-S-C!”

Main Photo Credit:

Todd Ellis #9, Quarterback for the University of South Carolina Gamecocks calls the play at the snap during the NCAA Independent Conference college football game against the University of West Virginia Mountaineers on 16 September 1989 at the Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, West Virginia, United States. The West Virginia Mountaineers won the game 45 – 21. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Allsport/Getty Images)

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