It is now time for the third installment in our NCAA Division I moniker study. In this episode, we’re taking a good look at the monikers that are one of a kind in Division I.
As a refresher, these are the nicknames that did not fall into either of the two categories that we studied in the previous installments. In Part 1, we looked at college monikers shared with pro sports teams in the Big Four. In Part 2, it was the nicknames that are unseen in the Big Four, but are duplicated throughout Division I. There were three nicknames (Blue Devils, Gamecocks, and Wolverines) that were carried forward from Part 2 to this installment. Those three may share their moniker with another school, but were dubbed the “I don’t think so” teams–meaning the more prominent schools had more than staked a claim on the name.
So let’s get right into it. Here are the one-of-a-kinders. We’ll break it down by category.
STATE NICKNAMES. There a handful of schools that use an element of a state nickname as their mascot. Often these are the largest universities in their state, and each either claims the state itself as it’s place name or is the state name followed by the word ‘state.’ This is particularly popular in the Big Ten, where seven of twelve members use a state nickname. The monikers that fit this category are: Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Nebraska Cornhuskers, North Carolina Tar Heels, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oregon State Beavers, Pennsylvania Quakers, Tennessee Volunteers, and Wisconsin Badgers. It should be noted that Michigan’s official nickname is the Great Lakes State. Wolverine State is the traditional nickname, so we gave them the nod. The Blue Hen State is one of Delaware’s nicknames, but is maybe only the third or fourth most-used. As such, we moved Delaware to another category….
BIRDS. Aside from the obvious bird monikers (Eagles, Hawks) covered in the last two installments, NCAA runs a-fowl with unique bird-based nicknames. In the barnyard, we find the Delaware Blue Hens and the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers–a reference to a rooster in old children’s tales. The South Carolina Gamecocks strut their tough, outlaw image, and the St. Peter’s Peacocks certainly display their feathers in a statement of semipro flamboyance. Taking a walk on the wild side, we have the Illinois State Redbirds and the Long Island-Brooklyn Blackbirds flashing their colors. The University of North Florida Ospreys represent the lesser-known raptors, if improperly pluralized. Then you have the highly visible odd duck–the Kansas Jayhawks. What is a Jayhawk? It’s not clear.
WILD DOGS. You would think that wild dogs would be well-represented in all levels of sports, but it’s not really the case. In the pros, there is are the Arizona Coyotes and Minnesota Timberwolves. That’s it. The ‘Wolfpack’ moniker is used twice in Division I, so that was covered in Part 2. Seawolves doesn’t count for this category since that’s not an actual animal. That leaves us with three unique wild dogs: the Marist Red Foxes, Arkansas State Red Wolves, and New Mexico Lobos. Two color specific subspecies and the Spanish word for wolf. I’ve asked this question several times…why is it so hard to find teams with a moniker of just ‘Wolves?’ If you ignore minor league hockey, you’re just about out of luck.
DOMESTICATED DOGS. In addition to the plethora of Bulldogs, Huskies, and yes, Terriers covered in Part 2, there is still a full kennel of unique pet dog monikers. The Albany Great Danes, Loyola-Maryland Greyhounds, and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers. Yes, retrievers. Even more obscure are the Southern Illinois Salukis, a reference to the ancient Egyptian royal dogs.
WILD CATS. The obvious choices for the ever popular big cat nicknames have already been scooped by by Part 1 and Part 2. There are dozens of NCAA teams that share a name with a pro team (or two) including Tigers, Lions, Panthers, Bobcats, Jaguars, and even Bengals. There is also a whole herd of Wildcats, Cougars, and yes, Bearcats. That leaves with two unique felines: the Lafayette Leopards and the Vermont Catamounts. Meow.
MORE MAMMALS! Here we go. Let’s take a safari, a trip to a national park, or a visit to the zoo. Along the way we’ll meet Arkansas Razorbacks, Cal-Irvine Anteaters, Campbell Fighting Camels, Colorado Buffaloes, Fairfield Stags, Kansas City Kangaroos, South Dakota State Jackrabbits, and Texas Longhorns. If we’re able to go back in time or to facilitate advanced cloning techniques, we may even see the Indiana-Fort Wayne Mastadons.
BUGS. There are two nicknames in Division I that reference a bug of some sort. The Virginia Tech Yellow Jackets join with the NBA’s Hornets to showcase the stinging insect sector of society. The Richmond Spiders make eight-leggers everywhere mighty proud.
REPTILES. The cold-blooded crowd has a few representatives in Division I. Most prominent are the Florida Gators, though the Maryland Terrapins and Texas Christian Horned Frogs are no slouches. The lone member of the snake community is the Florida A&M Rattlers.
ANIMAL GROUPS. The Hofstra Pride seem to take their inspiration from a group of Lions. The Marshall Thundering Herd are quite specific about the nature of their bison.
MYTHICAL CREATURES. Tapping into the mythologies of world culture can sometimes yield nicknames that fit wonderfully with college culture. Other times, it’s just plain awkward. The Canisius Golden Griffins, Duke Blue Devils, and DePaul Blue Demons seem to have a need for clearly stating the color of their creature. The Drexel Dragons and Northwestern State Demons play it simple, to good effect. The Southern Utah Thunderbirds reference Native American folklore. The Stony Brook Seawolves animate a literary metaphor. The Saint Louis Billikens refer to an elvish creature imagined by a school teached in St. Louis.
THE COLORS. Sometimes teams simply claim a color as their own. This differs slightly from a name like the Cincinnati Reds in that college teams tend to just be that color–in a non-pluralable sort of way. The Cornell Big Red, Harvard Crimson, Stanford Cardinal, Dartmouth Big Green, North Texas Mean Green, and Syracuse Orange all fit this description. Maybe it’s a status thing.
THE COLORFUL SOMETHINGS. Maybe it’s a force of nature, an occurrence, or an article of clothing. For whatever reason: it is colorful. The Alabama Crimson Tide and Tulane Green Wave make a spash with their monikers. The Kent State Golden Flashes and St. Francis Red Flash refer to lightning or photographs or something. The St. John’s Red Storm make it clear that the approaching squall is ruddy in hue. Most bizarrely, the Presbyterian Blue Hose make an archaic reference to a very manly piece of legwear.
WEATHER. Considering the proliferation of weather-related monikers in the NBA and NHL, it’s a bit of a surprise that Hurricanes is the only moniker shared by NCAA (Miami) and the Big Four (Carolina.) Even more of a surprise is that the Iowa State Cyclones and Pepperdine Wave are the only two monikers that fit exclusively in this category. Now Golden Hurricane, Green Wave, and Red Storm….those make sense. Generally, I’m not a fan of weather nicknames anyway, so no complaints here.
NOBLEMEN. Moving on to the many people-based nicknames. We’ll start at the top of the hierarchy with the political and social leaders. The Austin Peay Governors, Old Dominion Monarchs, and San Francisco Dons all fit here. It also seems like the good place to put the Centenary Gentlemen.
RELIGIOUS FIGURES. The Providence Friars are in a similar category as the New Orleans Saints. The big headscratcher here is the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. I guess that’s one way to make a moral authority seem intimidating.
SOLDIERS OF NEW. The current military finds it’s way into sports through a few monikers used by service sports teams. These are the Navy Midshipmen and the Virginia Military Institute Keydets–a reference to the Southern pronunciation of ‘cadets.’
SOLDIERS OF OLD. Where an underutilized moniker like Knights doesn’t jell, there is a whole host of ancient swashbucklers who are ready for battle. The Furman Paladins, Longwood Lancers, New Orleans Privateers, Vanderbilt Commodores, and Xavier Musketeers all fit the bill.
NATIVE AMERICANS. Native American nicknames are generally pretty contentious. For example, the former North Dakota Fighting Sioux are currently playing sports without a moniker whatsoever. Some schools have struck agreements with various tribes, while others apparently go unabated. The Central Michigan Chippewas, Florida State Seminoles, Illinois Fighting Illini, and Utah Utes are the four unique examples of teams that refer to Native groups in the current United States. The San Diego State Aztecs looked South of the border for their moniker, while the University of California-Santa Barbara Gauchos cast their gaze even further–as far as South America.
CRANKY ETHNIC GROUPS. I’m not sure why the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Lousiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns are so upset, but it certainly is entertaining.
GUN-TOTING REVOLUTIONARIES. The UMass Minutemen hearken back to the American Revolution, whereas the Ole Miss Rebels are Civil War era relics. The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (or in baseball–the Hustlin’ Rebels) draw from Confederate history for some reason. You wouldn’t think that Las Vegas would need to come up with a unique reason to be called the Rebels.
BLUE COLLAR WORKERS. Where the NFL has the Packers and Steelers, NCAA Division I has the Purdue Boilermakers and the UTEP Miners.
BULLFIGHTERS. Believe it or not, there are two Division I monikers that reference bullfighters: the Cal-Northridge Matadors and the San Diego Toreros. Go figure.
MOVERS & SHAKERS. The Idaho Vandals have a moniker that was probably more akin to Raiders at the time it was picked. Vandalism is a little more politically incorrect these days. The La Salle Explorers manage to be respectable, yet original and family-friendly. The Portland Pilots make excellent use of a very underutilized and terrific sports nickname. The Murray State Racers are neck and neck with the Pacers for most dull movement-oriented moniker.
THE CHEER PIECES. Two prominent D-I schools, the Georgetown Hoyas and Virginia Tech Hokies, both get their monikers from remnants of fight songs. Contrary to popular belief, a hoya is not a bulldog and a hokie is not a turkey.
MISCELLANEOUS. There are some monikers that do not lend themselves easily to any specific category. The UAB Blazers, for instance, have created a great identity independent of the NBA’s Trailblazers by using a dragon as a mascot. The retention of the vague ‘Blazers’ moniker, however, does not mean that UAB would be lumped in with the Mythical Creatures. The Manhattan Jaspers are simply named after a guy named Jasper. The Indiana State Sycamores are a rare plant-based moniker. The Loyola Chicago Ramblers seem to be named after a certain type of wanderer, but their mascot is a dog. Another headscratcher with a dog mascot is the Western Illinois Leathernecks. Not totally sure what a leatherneck is, but I don’t think it’s a type of dog. On the literal side of things, we’ve got the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (apparently a pronunciation key) and the Stetson Hatters–an obvious clothing-based moniker. The Chattanooga Mocs and William & Mary Tribe are two schools that have made themselves bland in the face of offensive references. The Mocs (former Moccasins) are now explained as being short for mockingbird. The Tribe have kept the name, but removed Native American imagery. The Evansville Aces could’ve been a reference to pilots, but seemingly has no real meaning. The West Kent Hilltoppers reference a geographic situation, and the Wichita State Shockers hearken back to an agrarian hay-day. Since we’ve gone from A to Z with all of these original Division I schools, it’s only fitting that we end with the Akron Zips.
Yep. The Zips. God Bless America. And bless you too, dear reader. Before we zip out of this NCAA experience, there’ll be one last push to rank the top Division I monikers. What’s a study without a conclusion? Stay alert for Part 4.