DESTIN, Fla. — A reporter prefaced his question to Dave Hart by saying he had received emails from Tennessee fans concerned that Pat Summitt's name might be taken off the Thompson-Boling Arena court.
"Why would we do that?" UT's first-year athletic director said at the SEC Spring Meetings. "That doesn't even warrant a response."
He's right. Why would UT remove the name of its legendary women's basketball coach from the floor that honors her?
As farfetched as the question might seem, it's reflective of the fear among some UT fans that Hart doesn't care about women's athletics.
It's expressed on message boards, and I've heard it in conversations with more than one fan of UT women's athletics. But there's no solid evidence to support it.
Still, the questions persist, in part, because Hart is overseeing the final stages of the merger between the men's and women's athletic departments. Some fans fear the Lady Vols' nationally prominent logo will be lost in the process as UT expands its Power T to cover all sports, regardless of gender.
Yet Hart said that has never been discussed.
Again, he might ask, "Why would we?"
One logo doesn't have to detract from another. The dominant color is still orange. The brand is still "Tennessee."
Another contributor to the fear factor could be Hart's background. He was a longtime athletic director at Florida State, which is known primarily for football.
He also had a prominent role in Alabama's athletic department before he took the athletic director's job at UT last fall. Do I need to mention that football comes first at Alabama?
In fact, with a couple of exceptions, like Vanderbilt and Kentucky, football comes first at every school in the SEC. An athletic director in this conference could lose his job over a dreadful football program, no matter how many other sports might be flourishing on his watch. That doesn't mean SEC athletic directors are content with failure elsewhere, as long as football is successful.
Hart was asked about the perception among some fans that women's sports aren't a priority with him.
"I can only tell you there's nothing in my background that would suggest anything but the opposite," said Hart, who increased the funding for women's athletics at Florida State. "I've always been a major proponent of women's athletics.
"I don't think I have anything to prove in that regard. I think the track record speaks for itself."
Holly Warlick, whom Hart hired to succeed Summitt in April, isn't worried about the athletic director's commitment to women's basketball.
"He's been very supportive of myself and the women's program," she said "He comes to practice and comes down to meet with our kids, just to say hey. I honestly think his priority is the student-athlete."
She has heard some of the concerns from fans, though.
"Everybody is concerned about the (Lady Vols) logo," she said. "He has never said we're getting rid of the logo.
"I definitely think they will keep the logo."
Warlick's relationship with Hart was strengthened this past season during which she assumed a leadership role while Summitt was battling early onset dementia. She also stresses how attentive Hart had been to her program's needs and how comfortable she felt expressing an opinion with him.
"I know he's in a tough situation as far as combining the two programs, but I have a lot of confidence in him," she said.
Hart admits the merger of the programs has created a "lot of apprehension," then offers reassurance to fans of UT women's sports.
"There will be no erosion in our commitment to women's athletics," he said. "If anything, it will be strengthened."
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.