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Updated: 9:00 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010 | Posted: 10:12 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10, 2010

Georgia State or Georgia Southern: Who's the real GSU?



By Ken Sugiura

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia State's football helmets say "GSU." The T-shirts that sold out in the student-center bookstore say "GSU." Even the school's URL says "GSU."

Frank Sulkowski is not convinced.

"I think Georgia Southern folks and the Eagle fans down here feel like Georgia Southern has earned ‘GSU,'" said Sulkowski, sports director at WJCL-TV in Savannah and a member of Georgia Southern's Class of 1997.

The neatly trimmed boxwood shrubs in Statesboro at Georgia Southern's campus entrance say "GSU." The T-shirts that are years older than the ones that were snapped up at Georgia State last week say "GSU." Even the school's phone number says "GSU."

Georgia State athletic director Cheryl Levick is dubious.

"You walk through Atlanta and you say, ‘GSU, where is that?'" Levick said. "They'll tell you, ‘Georgia State, downtown Atlanta.'"

A question that was first asked in 1990, when Georgia Southern College attained university status, has taken on added urgency this fall with the debut of Georgia State's football team -- who's the real GSU?

"GSU is Georgia Southern, but I know what the real GSU is," said Georgia State safety Michael Hall, whose team plays its second game Saturday at the Georgia Dome against Lambuth.

Adding a layer of complexity to the matter is both schools' approach to the initials. Before Mark Becker became Georgia State's president in 2009, the school had steered clear of using GSU -- in school publications, paraphernalia, anywhere -- to avoid confusion with Georgia Southern, which has received significant publicity from its six national championships in football.

However, Becker and Levick, also hired in 2009, embraced it, in part because of football. Levick and coach Bill Curry considered different options for the helmet design and decided a blue helmet with "GSU" in white lettering above a red stripe was the right choice. Since the end of the '90s, the initials had been rare, if non-existent, on school uniforms.

"We took it and ran with it," Levick said. "It's an easy mark to use. We want it to be identifiable with the university."

Georgia Southern has gone the opposite way in recent years. Athletic director Sam Baker said that former school president Bruce Grube sought to limit the use of "GSU," preferring the school's full name. The school believes it aids in name recognition, particularly outside the state. Sulkowski acknowledges that the decision has influenced his reports to the point that he never refers to the Eagles team as "GSU."

Of course, TV reports and university press releases are one thing. What is said in offices, living rooms and sports bars across the state is something else.

"I used to tell people, when I first got to college, ‘I go to GSU,'" said Hall, who hails from Dublin, about 90 minutes west of Statesboro. "They'd be like, ‘Oh, you go to Georgia Southern.' ‘No, I don't.' I took offense."

Josh Morris, a Georgia Southern man in Georgia State territory, is equally resolute.

"I just think it should be and will be Georgia Southern, at least until Georgia State does something on the football field," said Morris, president of the Forsyth/North Fulton Eagle Club.

Levick is eager for a game with the rival GSU. Baker, would not comment on a possible GSU-GSU game beyond "I hadn't thought about it."

If it happens, the winner can play Grambling State University.

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GSU vs. GSU

Georgia State

Founded: 1913

Became GSU: 1969

Enrollment: 31,438

Living alumni: 172,000

Famous alumni: Ludacris, Hawks and Thrashers co-owner Michael Gearon Jr.

Average SAT, freshman class: 1103 (2010)

Record of football team: 1-0

Georgia Southern

Founded: 1906

Became GSU: 1990

Enrollment: 19,000

Living alumni: More than 60,000

Famous alumni: Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy, Zaxby's founder Tony Townley

Average SAT, freshman class: 1106 (2008)

Record of football team: 267-117-1

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