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Grace Calhoun has set out to rebrand Penn Athletics.

Photo: Holden McGinnis

It’s time to hit the refresh button for Penn Athletics.

In the eyes of Athletic Director Grace Calhoun, that means new uniforms, new initiatives, new programming and, most importantly, a new vision.

Now in her second academic year at the helm of the athletic department, Calhoun is done learning the ropes. She is ready to concentrate her efforts on unifying the student-athlete community on campus and push Penn Athletics as a whole onwards to victory.

A hallmark of this changed focus is the newly christened Penn Champions Club. Unveiled in late September at Calhoun’s second-annual “All Athlete Gathering” in the Palestra, the program is designed to be an outlet for holistic athletics fundraising.

At first glance, this may seem like a lot of jargon, but the central goal of the Penn Champions Club is quite simple: Raise money without strings attached.

In the past, the athletic department was restricted in how it allocated its resources based on which teams generated the most revenue from alumni gifts. Now, with donations directed towards a centralized pool, Calhoun and the rest of her staff have greater freedom.

“When everything is tied to a particular sport it restricts some of those major initiatives that I think unify the division and create more collaboration with the campus,” Calhoun said.

At its core, Penn Champions Club is a fundraising entity. Calhoun hopes that it can be more than that, though.

“The hope is that a good side benefit of this is that we have more of an opportunity to raise funds centrally for what we’re establishing now as our new initiatives,” she said.

More money means more perks and opportunities for Penn’s athletes, coaches and training staff, something Calhoun hopes will set the University apart from its peer institutions when it comes to recruiting.

Penn Champions Club is an important first step towards greater financial parity amongst the University’s 33 athletic teams. More than that, though, by branding the athletics department on a school-wide basis instead of lifting certain teams into the spotlight over others, the initiative seeks to rebrand Penn Athletics as a unified community rather than 33 separate entities.

Another crucial element of this rebranding effort is more consistency across teams’ apparel.

“An early desire of mine was to clean up our look in that we saw every shade of red and blue that you could imagine,” said Calhoun. “Just none of the teams looked very uniform.”

The University signed a multisport deal with Nike in the spring to streamline the process of having just one shade of red and one shade of blue on the fields and courts. The contract effectively made Nike the official retailer of Penn Athletics, however Under Armour will still outfit five of the University’s teams until their respective multi-year contracts expire.

The Nike swoosh won’t be the only new logo on Penn’s uniforms. The Athletic Department is ditching the University’s shield logo in favor of the split “P” design, what Calhoun envisions as a badge of honor for Quakers athletes.

“We like our marks, we’re not reconsidering the split ‘P’ in any way,” she said. “If anything we get compliments consistently that it’s a really strong mark.”

From a financial standpoint, the Nike contract was a welcome boon for teams with smaller operating budgets. By consolidating apparel contracts of 28 teams into one, more free apparel is available to teams.

“I think coaches were all very happy we ended up where we did,” Calhoun said of the Nike partnership.

New uniforms and new fundraising intiatives certainly fall short of a department overhaul. Yet these key changes reorient the path of Penn Athletics. Gone are the days when being a student-athlete only meant pledging allegiance to a coach and a pair of colors.

Now, being a student-athlete means something more than that. It means belonging to a school-wide community, all proudly brandishing that split “P” badge across their chests. And by the time Calhoun sees her vision for the University’s sports programming through, she hopes that the whole of Penn Athletics will be greater than the sum of its parts.

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