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Rebranding the Big 12: an Experiment

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We’re going to give everybody new nicknames, even if they don’t need one.

Given the rebranding of the Washington Redskins Football Team, as well as the recent addition of the Seattle Kraken to NHL, I’ve decided to take a stab at rebranding each and every school in the Big 12.

As often as possible, I want to avoid generic mascots like “Wildcats” or “Bulldogs” unless they make a preposterous amount of sense. More importantly, I want to find a nickname that fits the school, whether it be from geographic, historic, or any other relevant perspective. Some schools already have a great nickname, but we’re going to find something else for them.

Naturally, I’m going to start with the Big 12, which features a handful of schools that already have essentially perfect nicknames, but I think we can find a few others.


Baylor

Baylor University sports teams originally started going by the “Bears” in December of 1914 after a naming contest originally announced during a chapel service in October. Naming contests are lame, so we’re going find a completely new nickname for the school.

Magnolias

This one should come as no surprise, given that Magnolia Market by Chip and Joanna Gaines is easily the most recognizable and popular tourist attraction in Waco. Plus, there’s something endearing about non-threatening/non-intimidating mascots.

Mammoths

In 1978, two archaeologists went searching for arrowheads and fossils around the Bosque River near Waco, and stumbled upon a large bone that had been exposed in a ravine. After taking the bone back to Baylor University for further examination, it was determined to have belonged to from a Columbian Mammoth.

A dig team was assembled to further excavate the site. Over the course of the next 12 years, scientists and volunteers dug up the remains of an astonishing sixteen(!) mammoth skeletons, all of which are now being preserved at Baylor University’s Mayborn Museum Complex.

While I am trying to avoid animal mascots, “mammoths” is rarely seen at any level of athletics beyond high school, if at all (Purdue-Fort Wayne is the “Mastodons”), so that condition wouldn’t apply here.

Needless to say, this would be a unique and interesting nickname with a cool historical link.

Iowa State

“Cyclones” is the first nickname on this list that really doesn’t need to be changed, because it has a cool backstory, and fits the school well. Most Iowa State fans are familiar with the story, but for the outsiders here’s a quick summary:

In 1895, then Iowa Agricultural College beat a powerhouse Northwestern squad by a score of 36-0. The next day, the Chicago Tribune featured the headline “Iowa Cyclone Devastates Northwestern, 36-0.”

And thus, the name was born.

However, for the sake of this exercise, we’re going to rebrand our beloved Iowa State University.

Barnstormers

This feels like an obvious one, but the Barnstormers would be a natural fit. “Barnstorming” refers to a practice that reached its heights during the 1920s when pilots would tour the country, performing stunts and offering rides in order to sell airplanes. Nowadays, “barnstorming” can also refer to the political candidates that storm through Iowa during presidential election cycles, campaigning to win the votes of Iowans.

Beyond the historical connection, the main draw here might be the connection to the former Iowa Barnstormers AFL franchise, which is best known for being the former team of Iowan and NFL Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, as well as their signature helmets, which feature a pair of pilots’ goggles.

SP.PIRANHAS.COOPER.1.0720.AS––ANAHEIM–– Iowa Barnstormers’ Lamart Cooper, talks with teammates durng Photo by Al Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

I’ll be spending the rest of the day dreaming about a modern take on the Barnstormers helmet atop Brock Purdy’s head as he passes for a hundred touchdowns.

Tillers

At the risk of offending the burgeoning “no till” agricultural community, the “Tillers” would make a good nickname for the school that taps into its agricultural roots. Obviously, tilling/cultivating has been a huge part of farming for a long time, and would probably be considered a “signature” process or mental image associated with farming (outside of harvesting).

Kansas

Kansas University derives its “Jayhawks” nickname from a group of militant settlers and guerrilla fighters called “Jayhawkers” that routinely clashed with pro-slavery groups from Missouri (commonly referred to at the time as “Bushwhackers) in the name of the Union’s “free state” movement. When the term was first coined before the Civil War, however, it ordinarily referenced a thief. The term “Red Leg” was first used to describe the first Jayhawkers, as they often wore red socks.

“Jayhawker” eventually became a colloquialism for pro-Union sympathizers, “bushwhacker” became the term for the pro-Confederate counterpart to the Jayhawker, while “red leg” was more of a term for an indiscriminate thief and murderer. “Red leg” has now evolved to essentially be a synonym for Jayhawker, which was demonstrated in 2017 when the Kansas football team wore red pants as a tribute to the original red legs.

This nickname is a pretty good fit for Kansas, given the significant historical connections, but let’s take a stab at their rebrand.

Red Legs

Given the above explanation of the Jayhawks nickname, Red Legs is a pretty natural substitution since it’s known as essentially the same thing as a Jayhawker.

Kansas State

Kansas State derives its “Wildcats” nickname in a way that actually might be more boring than a naming contest.

The football coach just decided to call his team that.

The athletics teams were first known as the “Aggies” for 19 years before football coach John Bender renamed his team the “Wildcats”, which stuck around for a whole one year before Z.G. Clevenger renamed the team the “Farmers.” That nickname stuck around for three years before the next coach, Charles Bachman, went back to the Wildcats nickname, which finally stuck.

Wildcats is probably the second-most generic team name after the “Bulldogs,” so this one definitely needs an overhaul.

Cannonballs

If you’re a Johnny Cash fan, you probably know the song Wabash Cannonball. Well, K-State has a special connection to that song.

In 1968, the music department burned to the ground, sending every single piece of music in the building up in flames. The only thing salvaged from the fire was the contents the band director’s brief case, which included a piece of music titled The Wabash Cannonball. With an upcoming basketball game and no other music to play, the band played that song over and over again, essentially christening it as a second fight song.

59ers

You’re probably wondering what the hell this is about, considering Kansas has never had a gold rush. Well, Manahattan happened to be one of the last stops on the trail out west during the Rocky Mountain Gold Rush of 1859, with those travelers picking up the moniker “Fifty Niners,” similar to the San Francisco 49ers nickname taken from the California Gold Rush of 1849. The rush of Fifty Niners created a small economic boom for Manahattan, and led to the creation of The Kansas Express, the town’s first newspaper.

Oklahoma

The “Sooners” nickname comes from a group of early settlers that took part in the Land Rush of 1889, which in many cases involved people literally running into an open field, planting a sign in the ground, and sitting next to it to claim their land. The “boomer” part of Boomer Sooner comes from the people that campaigned for the opening of the lands in the first place. So, many “boomers” became “sooners.”

As legend would have it, Those original settlers never learned any other words in the English language, and only communicated by yelling “BOOMER SOONER” at each other. Eventually, one of the townsfolk happened upon a trumpet, and began playing it indiscriminately in the faces of every single passerby to commemorate even the most insignificant of personal achievements.

Learn to throw a rock real good? Boomer Sooner.

Shit on the ground without getting any on your leg? Boomer Sooner.

Successfully navigate a turn in your horse-drawn wagon without rolling it? Boomer Sooner.

The term “Sooner” did carry a significant negative connotation for decades after the land rush, but as older generations have passed on, the term has largely became a simple descriptor of people from Oklahoma.

Let’s give these land squatters a rebrand.

Roughnecks

Texas may be more well-known for its oil fields, but Oklahoma certainly produces its fair share of the bubblin’ crude. Beyond that, Oklahoma’s nickname before being called the Sooners was actually the Roughnecks. It’s a natural fit, and we already know it works well as a mascot.

Pioneers

To stick with the westward expansion theme, Pioneers makes a lot of sense, since that’s essentially what the original sooners were. There are a few other schools called the Pioneers running around the NCAA, but none in the FBS.

Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State’s “Cowboys” nickname didn’t come about in a terribly interesting fashion, as it was born in 1923 out of a desire to move on from the “Tigers” and “Aggies” nicknames Oklahoma A&M had used up until then.

However, the inspiration for the mascot and nickname is an interesting tale.

During an Armistice Day parade, a group of students saw Frank Eaton, a then-97 year old man that had lived a life fit for recreation in the next Red Dead Redemption, and asked to use him as inspiration for a new mascot. Thus, Pistol Pete and the “Cowboys” nickname was born. In fact, Frank Eaton was such as badass that the University of Wyoming and New Mexico State university also used him as inspiration for the mascots.

However, let’s say the cross necklace Frank’s girlfriend gave him had not deflected a bullet in a gunfight, and he perished before the Oklahoma A&M students had a chance to find him at the parade. In that case, Pistol Pete is never born, and the soon-to-be Oklahoma State University needs a new mascot.

Dust Devils

Without a great historical reference that isn’t already tied to their current name, we’re going to go a slightly different direction here. Dust devils are small whirlwinds common in the southern plains, especially in...ahem...dustier regions. Stillwater is just a few minutes away from I-35, which largely serves as a divider between the greener eastern half of Oklahoma, and the dry, arid western half of Oklahoma.

The great part about the Dust Devils nickname is that you can use both the weather imagery, as well as a devil mascot. A devil in a tornado (reminiscent of Iowa State’s punching tornado Cy logo) would be an outstanding new logo for Oklahoma State.

Rattlers

This one seems fairly obvious if OSU were to go to an animal mascot. Even though one other D1 school uses the nickname (Florida A&M), Oklahoma State would immediately own that brand as the only Power 5 school using that mascot.

TCU

The horned frog is a spiky-bodied lizard native to north Texas. As a defense mechanism, the horned frog will shoot blood out of its eyes as a defense mechanism.

TCU’s adoption of the nickname isn’t quite so interesting (the 1887 yearbook was titled The Horned Frog, and the athletics department slowly adopted the nickname), but it’s still a unique brand nonetheless.

As one of the more unique nicknames in college athletics, the “Horned Frogs” is another one in the conference that need not be changed, but we’re going to do it anyways because reasons.

Panthers

As mentioned before I tried desperately to use more original mascots, but this one fits TCU too well to not use. Most importantly, the panther has a lot of significance to Forth Worth, to the point where the city is actually nicknamed “The Panther City.”

Forth Worth earned that nickname in 1875 when the Dallas Daily Herald wrote a satirical column which accused Fort Worth of being so sleepy that the townspeople had not noticed an actual panther sleeping in the middle of the road.

Rather than take the column as insult, the city adopted the panther wholesale as its town mascot, with businesses, high schools, and even fire engines carrying the panther name. The Forth Worth Police Department badge even has a panther on it to this day.

Needless to say, it’s about as signature to TCU’s home city as anything could be.

Secondly, their existing purple and black color scheme is absolutely perfect for that mascot.

Missions

Texas Christian University could also go the route of a more regional reference by switching to the missions. It would be a unique name in all of the NCAA, and reference both the religious element of the institution, as well as the cultural significance of the Spanish missions that dot Texas.

Texas

As one of the most powerful brands in college athletics and recognizable logos in sports, the Texas Longhorns need no introduction. The Longhorn is derived from the longhorn cow that’s signature to the state, and is a direct ancestor of the first cattle brought to the new world by Christopher Columbus.

There really isn’t a more perfect nickname for the University of Texas, but we’re going to try to find one anyways.

Royals

This one might surprise you, but Texas rebranding itself to the “Royals” actually makes a ton of sense, even if one of the reasons is extremely groan-worthy.

First, Texas currently plays football in Darrel K. Royal Memorial Stadium. The “Royals” nickname fits that legacy perfectly.

Second, the city of Austin is actually nicknamed the “City of the Violet Crown.” The nickname is believed to have originated in O. Henry’s story “Tictocq: The Great French Detective, In Austin”, published in his collection of short stories from The Rolling Stone in October of 1894.

“The drawing-rooms of one of the most magnificent private residences in Austin are ablaze of lights. Carriages line the streets in front, and from gate to doorway is spread a velvet carpet, on which the delicate feet of the guests may tread. The occasion is the entrée into society of one of the fairest buds in the City of the Violet Crown.”

The phrase is believed to be referencing the atmospheric phenomenon “Belt of Venus,” which often causes the sky to take on a pink or violet hue.

Thirdly, in the most Texas way possible, the school could also advertise the Royals nickname as a signifier of their place as the rulers of the Big 12 conference.

The Royals nickname would be a significant change from the “Longhorns,” but it may not be the most jarring part of this rebrand.

With the Royals nickname comes a new purple and gold color scheme, though the school would likely go with more of a darker “royal purple” than the much brighter traditional violet.

Texas would no longer sport the burnt orange.

Wranglers

If you didn’t want to make such a seismic shift in branding for Texas, the Wranglers could make for a more palatable change that would allow Texas to keep the burnt orange and white color scheme, and even much of the same longhorn cattle imagery we see.

They would simply need to add a cowboy figure to their stable of logos, and you’d be 95% of the way there. The Wranglers nickname still has a Texas feel without using the Longhorn name.

Texas Tech

Texas Tech’s “Red Raiders” nickname came from Collier Parrish, sports editor of the Lubbock Morning Avalanche, in 1936, when he bestowed the nickname on Texas Tech’s sports teams because of their all-red uniforms and the rigorous cross-country schedule they often played. The first “Masked Rider” physical mascot also debuted in 1936.

Matadors

The imagery Texas Tech uses for the Red Raiders has a significant Zorro feel to it, so a “Matadors” nickname would be a natural fit, and wouldn’t really require a tremendous overhaul of the logos or color scheme. This would easily be the most painless brand transition in the conference.

Desperados

I wanted to find a more creative second option for Texas Tech, but Lubbock is so steeped in the history of the Old West that basically nothing else makes sense for their nickname. Buddy Holly is from Lubbock, so I tried to think of something there, but I couldn’t come up with anything.

Either way, Desperados is still a super cool nickname that plays nicely with the Old West heritage, and, much like “Matadors,” wouldn’t require a total overhaul of their current branding to make the switch.

West Virginia

West Virginia University first adopted the Mountaineers nickname in 1905 after the state of West Virginia coined their state slogan “Mountaineers are always free.” This is another one of those nicknames that’s just perfect for the school, as it fits the culture of the state and their fanbase to a tee, and really doesn’t need to be changed.

However, we’re still going to give them a new nickname.

Mothmen

This is easily my favorite new nickname of the bunch, as it references the urban legend of the West Virginia Mothman. The mothman is a creature that was reportedly seen near Pleasant Point, WV from November 12, 1966 to December 15, 1967. The Point Pleasant Register was the first newspaper to pick up the story, publishing the headline “Couples See Man-Sized Bird ... Creature ... Something”

The legend was popularized by Gray Barker in 1970, then further publicized in 1975 by John Keel in The Mothman Prophecies.

From the Wikipedia page:

This would without a doubt launch West Virginia into “coolest nickname in the country” status. Disappointed that we’d no longer see the bushy-bearded Mountaineer roaming the sidelines with his musket? Do not fear, as we can have someone dressed like this walking around instead:

Snakes

Prior to the “Mountaineers” nickname, West Virginia previously referred to themselves as the Snakes. Honestly, this is only here because I gave every school two options. The Mothmen is the only real option here.

Mothmen Forever.