NCAA Moniker Study Part 1: the Copycats

Now that we’ve said about all there is to say about pro sports nicknames, let’s take a look at the amateur levels.  Since the NCAA basketball season is in full swing and the college football season is getting toward the bowl frenzy, it’s a great time to take a look at collegiate monikers in the NCAA.


NCAA:  Nicknames Can Articulate Archetypes


For this multi-part study, we’re taking a look at monikers of Division I schools only.  I’m sure there are scores of noteworthy monikers in Division II and III (the UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs jump to mind) we’re narrowing our gaze to Division I.  Narrowing our gaze to an in-depth analysis of about 350 schools!

This study will be presented in at least four installments, and for Part 1 we’re looking at the schools who share a moniker with at least one pro sports team in the Big Four.  In some cases, they are the copycats; though who is copying who is up for debate.  There are several groups of schools even within that specific category, so let’s waste no more time digging in.  Sport Change will offer a description and then pick the team that wears the nickname the best.



Who is the top cat?

The Big Three.  Of those monikers that are shared with pro sports teams, there are three nicknames that are utterly ubiquitous in the college ranks.  These are Tigers, Eagles, and Panthers.  Tigers boasts representation of thirteen schools, Eagles has nine, and Panthers has eight.  Almost nine percent of all 347 teams have one of these three handles.  Let’s take a look at them:

-Tigers.  Though the Detroit Tigers certainly wear their moniker well, ‘Tigers’ is broad and obvious enough that Detroit doesn’t ‘own’ the nickname.  Not only is Tigers represented 13 times in Division I, the quality of those athletic programs is surprisingly good.  The big six here are Auburn, Clemson, LSU, Memphis, Missouri, and we’ll throw Princeton in there too.  So who owns it?  Hard to say.  I tend to sway toward the football side of things, and in that case it’s either Clemson, LSU, or Mizzou.  Auburn may be very visible, but the blue/orange, ‘war eagle,’ and letter logo don’t exactly roar.  All three make a compelling case, but I’m going with Clemson due to the tiger paw print and inescapable orange.

-Eagles.  This is another broad-swath nickname that the Philly Eagles can’t claim 100% stake on.  We’ll discuss variations on the theme (Golden Eagles, etc.) later.  Of the nine Division I teams that carry simply the Eagles nickname, Boston College stands out the clear leader.

-Panthers.  Carolina and Florida both use Panthers in the Big Four, but both of those teams are less than 20 years old, and have yet to fully own the moniker.  Of the eight Division I schools, Pittsburgh is the clear leader.


Not exactly the most prominent Panther


The 3-5ers.  These monikers are used by 3-5 schools in addition to being used by a pro team.  Bears and Broncos have 5, Hawks, Bobcats, and Rams have 4, and Cardinals, Cowboys, Hornets, Jaguars, Lions, and Pirates have 3.

-Bears.  Chicago nearly owns this nickname, but I mean…it’s Bears.  That’s like when Donald Trump tried to trademark “you’re fired.”  Of the 5, Baylor is the clear leader.

-Bobcats.  I was quite surprised to see that Charlotte shares a moniker with four other schools.  The one that I knew of (Ohio) is the clear leader over Montana State, Qunnipiac, and Texas-San Marcos.  If Charlotte goes back to being the Bobcats, I think Ohio would own the nickname, so to speak.


What about Bobcats?

-Broncos/Broncs.  Denver has pretty good control of this moniker, but five colleges may beg to differ.  One in particular, Boise State, makes it’s case.  Or whinnies it’s case.

-Cardinals.  I don’t think anybody can claim more ownership of ‘Cardinals’ than St. Louis, but of the three in D-I, Louisville wears it best.  Not to slight Ball State and Lamar.

-Cowboys.  Dallas owns this nickname.  I’m giving Wyoming the nod over Oklahoma State and McNeese due to the all-in nature of Wyoming U’s embrace of the Cowboys moniker.

Oklahoma State may be more visible, but Wyoming comes closest to Dallas to owning 'Cowboys.'

Oklahoma State may be more visible, but Wyoming comes closest to Dallas to owning ‘Cowboys.’

-Hawks.  Atlanta has a loose grip at best, and there are many variations on theme.  Of the four schools with just ‘Hawks’ there is no clear leader, so I’ll pick Monmouth over Hartford, St. Joseph’s, and Maryland Eastern.

-Hornets.  New Orleans seems to be rejecting the moniker, but Alabama State, Cal-Sacramento, and Delaware State don’t exactly make compelling cases.  Let’s say Charlotte owns the moniker.

-Jaguars.  Jacksonville has an unsteady grasp on this handle, and I’m giving Southern the edge over IUPUI and South Alabama because Southern has the best logo.


Jacksonville could take some tips from Southern’s graphic designer

-Lions.  Detroit is most prominent, but Lions is very general.  Columbia may be an Ivy Leaguer, but I’m letting Loyola Marymount carry the banner simply because I really enjoyed “The Guru of Go,” a 30 for 30 documentary about the run & shoot basketball offense.

-Pirates.  Pittsburgh rocks it, but again: general.  I say that Seton Hall and East Carolina tie.  Sorry Hampton.

-Rams.  St. Louis carries the moniker that Los Angeles still owns, but there are four formidable reps in Division I.  I’m giving Virginia Commonwealth the slight nod over Fordham, Colorado State, and Rhode Island.


Rams is a great nickname. No butts about it.


The 2fers.  These nicknames are two-time name-sharers.  When it gets down to these dregs, it really makes you question if the college copied the name or if was just bizarre coincidences.  Those with two are: Braves, Bruins, Buccaneers, Bulls, Falcons, Flames, 49ers, Raiders, Seahawks, Titans, and Vikings.

-Braves.  General enough.  Atlanta owns it, but Alcorn State get the college nod.

-Bruins.  Who owns this moniker?  Boston or UCLA?  One thing we can agree on…it’s not Belmont.


UCLA: giving Smokey the Bear a run for his money

-Buccaneers.  Don’t think that Charleston Southern or East Tennessee can wrest the handle away from Tampa, but we’ll say ETU over CSU because of a cooler logo.

-Falcons.   Atlanta is most prominent, certainly.  I don’t ever hear of Air Force using the Falcons moniker, so I’m giving Bowling Green the nod.

-Bulls.  Chicago claims it, but it’s general enough.  South Florida and Buffalo both make strong cases…we’ll call it a draw–horn to horn.


Move over Bills, here come the Bulls

-Flames.  Any relation to Calgary must be purely incidental.  Illinois-Chicago or Liberty?  How about Liberty because it’s such a bad pun.  At least they’re not the Bells.

-Raiders.  It’s Oakland’s, or Los Angeles’s at least.  I’ll give Colgate the nod over Wright State.  Raiders with fresh breath.

-Titans.  The NFL team is too new to claim any ownership.  Cal-Fullerton and Detroit use Titans, but neither has the sweet  alliteration like Tennessee.


The elephant is a headscratcher. Cousin of the Crimson Tide creature?

-Seahawks.  For such an odd nickname, it’s mighty suspicious that there are two colleges and an NFL team with the name.  Who’s copying whom?  No clear leader.

-Vikings.  General enough that Minnesota can’t claim total use rights.  So Portland State or Cleveland State?  Whoever wants it gets it.

-49ers.  Shocked to hear that Charlotte and Long Beach both use 49ers.  Obviously, Frisco owns it.  At least Long Beach is in the Golden State, so they get the nod.  I’ve never heard about the North Carolina gold rush of 1849.


The great Carolina Gold Rush


The Singles.  Teams that are the only sharers of a pro team nickname are: Bengals, Blue Jays, Cavaliers, Dolphins, Ducks, Flyers, Grizzlies, Hurricanes, Islanders, Mavericks, Patriots, Penguins, Rockets, Saints, and Warriors.

-Bengals.  Really, Idaho State?  This moniker works on a college level much better than the NHL, however vague it might be.

-Penguins.  Youngstown State uses the Penguins moniker, and it’s really a fun mascot at a semipro level.  Unfortunately for YSU, Pittsburgh owns this moniker.

-Dolphins.  The Jacksonville Dolphins.  Hmm.  At least Miami U isn’t called the Jaguars.


Apparently Jacksonville denizens can claim Jaguars and Dolphins

-Blue Jays.  Creighton rocks this nickname independently of the Toronto baseballers.  No harm, no fowl.  (ha)

-Cavaliers.  Virginia wears this one better than Cleveland, but both are OK.

-Ducks.  It’s easy to forget this one, since the NHL team is more memorable as the Mighty Ducks.  Either way, Oregon owns this nickname.

-Grizzlies.  Montana owns this nickname.  It shouldn’t be in Memphis at all.


A nickname to make Memphis hoops fans feel grizzled.

-Flyers.  Dayton’s moniker operates apart from Philly’s NHL team.  It works.

-Mavericks.  The University of Texas-Arlington may have copycatted this name from Dallas’s NBA team.

-Warriors.  Hawaii changed from Rainbow Warriors to just warriors.  Nice.  It’s general enough that they absolutely make it work.  One of my favorites in all of Division I.

-Rockets.  Toledo launches this moniker independently of Houston.


Five! Four! Three! Two! Ledo!

-Patriots.  I think this is general enough to be fair game.  Does anybody care that George Mason uses it?

-Hurricanes.  It’s a shame that we even have to put Miami on this list.  Carolina of the NHL should’ve picked a different name.  Oh well, maybe they’ll move.

-Islanders.  Like New York, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is a place reference.

-Saints.  The funny thing is that Siena uses a Saint Bernard for their logo.  Nice.  Now that’s a semi-pro moniker!


Roll over, Beethoven. He comes Siena.


Variations on the Theme

There are several Division I monikers that are similar to pro team names, but with an adjective in front of them.  They run the gamut, so let’s pick them apart one by one.

Bears.  The Maine Black Bears have a great name.  It doesn’t actually bring the Chicago Bears to mind, and it seems regionally relevant.  Cal Golden Bears works well considering that there’s a golden bear right on California’s state flag.


Now that’s a loud logo!

Grizzlies.  The Oakland Golden Grizzlies are interesting.  That’s mighty close to the moniker of next door’s Cal-Berkeley, and it’s not like Grizzlies are roaming the streets of Oakland.  Whatever–it’s still better than Memphis Grizzlies.  [EDIT: the Golden Grizzlies apparently play in Oakland, Michigan.  Thanks for the heads up to reader Joel!  Either way, still much better than Memphis!]

Hurricanes.  This doesn’t exactly fit the category, but it seems like the best place to mention the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.  That’s right.  The Tulsa Golden Hurricane.

Devils.  It’s probably inconsequential that there’s a hockey team named the New Jersey Devils, but we’ll call it due diligence.  The Arizona State Sun Devils make it work terrifically.  Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils is a bit of a stretch, to say the least.  Since there are two Blue Devils, we’ll discuss them in another post.


Arizona State is the best representation of Devils. Stick a fork in the rest.

Hawks.  Many variations on the theme.  We already mentioned the two Seahawks users, but Hawk variations run deep.  For starters, there are the Kansas Jayhawks.  KU nearly transcends the hawk-moniker, but it remains nonetheless.  Redhawks is used twice, with Miami of Ohio being more memorable than Southeast Missouri State.  The Lehigh Mountain Hawks, Tennessee Martin Skyhawks, and Northeastern State Riverhawks simply attach a natural term to hawks–similar to Seahawks.  The Louisiana Monroe Warhawks try to add some teeth…or beak, I guess.

Lions.  Arkansas Pine Bluff goes by the name of Golden Lions.  Kind of cool, if a little confusing.  Penn State has the Nittany Lions–whatever that means.


I’m not sure what a ‘Golden Lion’ is, but it’s certainly ferocious.

Panthers.  In addition to the eight just Panthers, there’s Florida International Golden Panthers.  I have to say that ‘Golden’ is perhaps the best adjective to stick in front of an animal name.

Raiders.  There’s two here.  The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders and the Texas Tech Red Raiders. What do they mean?  Your guess (or research) is as good as mine.

Eagles.  There are a whopping four Golden Eagles.  Since that’s an actual bird, I guess you could say it stands on it’s own.  I’d say Marquette and Southern Miss can duke it out for who owns it best, though I may give Southern Miss the edge since Marquette changed their name more recently.  Oral Roberts and Tennessee Tech are the other two.  Then there is another eagle variation: the Niagara Purple Eagles.  Wow.  Just wow.


Purple Eagles is at least more intimidating than Pink Hawks.


Alright.  That’s about all there is to say about Division I schools that share a moniker (or a variation) with a pro team.  Next up will be the names that have no pro counterpart, but are repeated nonetheless.  In other words, there will be Bulldogs.  Stay tuned.

NCAA Moniker Study Part 1: the Copycats

NCAA Moniker Study Part 2: Wildcats, Cougars, and Bulldogs, oh my!

NCAA Moniker Study Part 3: From Anteaters to Zips

NCAA Moniker Study Part 4: the Top 100 Nicknames in Division I


  1. Joel DeBruhl said:

    FYI, the Oakland Golden Grizzlies are actually located in Michigan, not Cali. Somewhat confusing, as most probably don’t know that there is an “Oakland” in Michigan. I found out when they made an upset bid during March Madness a few years ago.

    I have enjoyed your blog, especially your thoughts on the NOLA Pelicans. I disagree with your low ranking of the Saints as it works on a couple of levels for the Big Easy, which is predominantly Catholic, a religion that has patron saints for just about everything except football AND is a place filled with people who act like anything but Saints on non-Sundays prior to confessing their sins. Also, the fleur-de-lis of the Saints is one of the more iconic logo marks in all of sport.

  2. Joel, thanks for the Oakland info. NCAA is not my forte–it mostly comes from peripheral interest in college football and every few years when I have the time to pay attention to the b-ball tourney. So thanks for the heads up!

    I appreciate your thoughts on the Saints. Personally, I have always liked the Saints and cheered heartily when they overthrew the mighty Colts in the Super Bowl a few years ago. I like their iconic nature and consistency of brand. The fleur de lis is one of the top 5 logos in the NFL, no doubt.

    However, with the Sport Change moniker rankings, I sought to evaluate each nickname at face value. Some skated by on history, granted, but the Saints tumbled in the rankings due to a few things. 1.) The NFL has terrific nicknames all around, so a lot of good nicknames took a tumble. 2.) I’m not a big fan of mixing religion or politics with sports. 3.) for a football team, Saints is very intimidating. The Saints team itself in recent years is plenty intimidating, but in the 90s it seemed a little silly to me. 4.) New Orleans ends in an ‘S’ and Saints begins with an ‘S’. It makes it awkward to pronounce. Most people say New Orlean Saints. It’s like if your last name was Stevens and you named your son Alex. Alex Stevens. To pronounce it fully, you need to take a breath in there.

    These are all trivial, and of course I don’t think the Saints need a new name. I appreciate how it’s a reference to “When the Saints go Marching In,” I just think it’s inappropriate at the pro level. Tulane Saints–now that would be a great nickname! As long as Green Wave stays out of the NFL I’m happy.

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: