October 13, 2011

What we call ourselves

Greenville is just one of eight Panthers, but the only Panthers with a Lute-themed background.
Greenville athletics photo 

A good mascot is as important as a good quarterback.

Wait, no it isn’t. Around the Nation thought it would make interesting reading finding out why we call ourselves Devils, Mules and Quakers, among other things. But literally nobody agreed; meanwhile I receive 13 e-mails a week reminding me that I’m not including the Goat Trophy, the Sap Bucket and Route 13 Rivalry from the list of showdown games. The people have spoken, making it clear which traditions you care about, and I will get to those below.

Yet there’s poetry in these names, and an opportunity for some classic ATN number-crunching. In a season where we’ve read so much about heavy issues like on-field concussions and schools abandoning conferences, it’s okay to have a little fun once in while, right?

It’s a zoo trying to figure out which names Division III fans appreciate most. Well, it might as well be. At least 109 of our 239 schools used their animal instinct to come up with something to call its teams. Eight use the most popular name; Birmingham-Southern, Chapman, Ferrum, Greenville, Hanover, LaGrange, Middlebury and Plymouth State each are Panthers. They’re among the 32 cat-themed mascots, which comes in right alongside birds (33) and other animals (34) and way in front of dogs (10).

Lions (Albright, Mount St. Joseph and TCNJ), Tigers (DePauw, East Texas Baptist, Hampden-Sydney, Sewanee, Trinity and Wittenberg) and Bearcats (St. Vincent, Willamette), oh my. The D-III mascot safari is litter-boxed with felines. Besides Panthers, Lions and Tigers, there are Cougars (Averett, Concordia Ill. and Kean), Bengals (Buffalo State), Leopards (La Verne) and Lynx (Rhodes). Besides Bearcats, there are Wildcats (Linfield, Louisiana College), Bobcats (Bates, Frostburg State), Tomcats (Thiel) and, of course, AmCats (Anna Maria). If only all these teams could be outfitted by Puma.

Naming your team after a bird is no way to cause a flap in D-III. You blend in with the flock. There are six Eagles (Benedictine, Bridgewater, Husson, Juniata, Northwestern and UW-La Crosse) of the regular variety, plus some golden ones from Brockport State. There are just three regular ol’ Hawks circling (Becker, Hartwick and Huntingdon) but many varieties. Don’t confuse the national champion Warhawks (UW-Whitewater) with the headed-for-D2 War Hawks (McMurry); after letting go of their longtime Indians moniker, McMurry went a few seasons without any mascot at all. Less-violent fliers include Red Hawks (Montclair State, Ripon), Kohawks (Coe), Duhawks (Loras, located in Dubuque, Iowa) and Seahawks (Salve Regina). Sea Gulls (Salisbury) and Gulls (Endicott) fly nearby. Cardinals (Catholic, North Central, Otterbein, St. John Fisher and Wesleyan) are popular, as are Falcons (Concordia Wis., Fitchburg State and UW-River Falls) and Blue Jays (Elmhurst, Johns Hopkins and Westminster Mo.). More unique are Ravens (Anderson), Owls (Westfield State) and Sagehens (Pomona-Pitzer), the latter of which I had to look up to be sure it was a species of bird.

Only eight schools go by dog names, and that’s including UW-Stevens Point’s Pointers. Adrian, Redlands and Texas Lutheran are Bulldogs and others bark alone. Moravian is the Greyhounds, Pacific the Boxers, Hiram the Terriers and Sul Ross State the Lobos. (Note: Yes, I realized that Wolverines =/= wolves)

The most popular name in the rest of the zoo is made up of teams trying for a buzz. Six teams (Baldwin-Wallace, Defiance, Howard Payne, Randolph-Macon, Rochester and Waynesburg) call themselves Yellow Jackets, plus there are a pair of Hornets (Kalamazoo, Shenandoah) and some Wasps (Emory & Henry).

Every other mascot is four-legged, starting with the four Bears (Bridgewater State, Coast Guard, Ursinus, Washington U.), two Polar Bears (Ohio Northern, Bowdoin), Golden Bears (Western New England) and Grizzlies (Franklin). There are three Mustangs (Morrisville State, Mount Ida and Stevenson), plus Mules (Muhlenberg) and White Mules (Colby). Stags (Claremont-Mudd-Scripps), Rams (Cornell, Framingham State) and Bison (Bethany, Gallaudet, Nichols) also gallop nearby.

There are also elephants (Tufts’ Jumbos), roosters (Trinity’s Bantams), Gators (Allegheny), Kangaroos (Austin), Wolverines (Wesley, Grove City) and Beavers (Bluffton, Buena Vista).

The only mascot-naming theme nearly as popular as animals is teams calling themselves a specialized kind of human, as at least 95 go that route. There are Dutch (Central), Dutchmen (Union) and Flying Dutchmen (Hope and Lebanon Valley, the only flying anythings in D-III). There are Lords (Kenyon) and Lord Jeffs (Amherst), while a Jefferson, at W&J, goes by Presidents. And that leads down this government-themed road: Presidents, Generals (Washington & Lee), Diplomats (Franklin & Marshall), Statesmen (Hobart), Colonials (Western Conn.), Colonels (Centre, Curry), Majors (Millsaps), Captains (Christopher Newport), Cadets (Norwich) and Bombers (Ithaca).

Apparently the governments that make the best mascots are a nod to pre-football times: Along with Monarchs (King’s, Methodist) themselves, there are Kingsmen (Cal Lutheran), Royals (Bethel) and Regents (Rockford). Specifically we acknowledge Saxons (Alfred), Britons (Albion), Tartans (Carnegie Mellon) and Highlanders (MacMurray) and Norse (Luther). On the rugged side are three Vikings (Augustana, Lawrence and North Park), four Knights (Carleton, Martin Luther and Wartburg, plus St. Norbert’s Green Knights), two Warriors (Lycoming, Wisconsin Lutheran) and Lancers (Worcester State). Along the waterways are Buccaneers (Beloit, Mass. Maritime) and Pirates (Whitworth), but also Mariners (Maine Maritime, Merchant Marine) and Privateers (SUNY-Maritime) to protect you.

We’ve also got quite a few who fancy themselves Pioneers (seven; Carroll, Grinnell, Lewis and Clark, Marietta, Utica, UW-Platteville and William Paterson). That’s down one from pre-2006, when Widener switched from Pioneers to Pride. Four schools have an ’eer to the future: MIT, RHIT, RPI and WPI each call themselves the Engineers.

The other popular people names, oddly, are Scots (five; Alma, Macalester, Maryville, Monmouth, Wooster), Spartans (five; Aurora, Case Western Reserve, Castleton State, Dubuque and Manchester) and Titans (three; Illinois Wesleyan, UW-Oshkosh and Westminster, Pa.).

Religion comes into play for quite a few schools, including the four Crusaders (Capital, Mary Hardin-Baylor, Maranatha Baptist and Susquehanna), three Quakers (Earlham, Guilford and Wilmington) and four Saints (Presentation, St. Lawrence, St. Scholastica, Thomas More). Ohio Wesleyan and North Carolina Wesleyan figured out how to marry football toughness on Saturdays with peaceful prayer on Sundays by using Battling Bishops.

The third most-popular naming convention in D-III is the color-plus-one style. There are Red Men (Carthage), Red Dragons (Cortland State), Red Devils (Dickinson, Eureka), Red Hawks and the Big Red (Denison). There’s a Big Blue (Millikin) too, plus Blue Streaks (John Carroll), Blueboys (Illinois College), Blue Jays and Devils of the Blue variety (UW-Stout).

When you can’t pick a color, like UW-Eau Claire’s Blugolds, pick two.

Some mascots are hard to get the mind around. Terror is no fun, but the Green Terror (McDaniel) is a mascot. Tornadoes are no good either, until you make them Golden (Geneva). Raiders by themselves just raid. Purple Raiders (Mount Union), however, are unique.

Uniqueness, even moreso than projecting a fierce competitiveness, makes for the best mascots. A handful of them are just made up. Few know what a Maroon (Chicago), Aggie (Delaware Valley) or Cobber (Concordia-Moorhead) is. But a Johnnie (St. John’s), Tommie (St. Thomas), Gustie (Gustavus Adolphus), Auggie (Augsburg) and Ole (St. Olaf), can be whatever you want it to be, as can a Lute (Pacific Lutheran).

Some good mascots are real things, but not ones you can necessarily personify: Storm (Crown, Simpson), Thunder (Trine, Wheaton) and Comets (Olivet) come to mind. Pride (Greensboro, Springfield and Widener) can be a pack of lions, or the theory of school spirit.

Not every name evokes images of toughness. Hardin-Simmons might like the rugged Texas sound of Cowboys, but Whittier has no problem pushing up the glasses on the bridge of its nose and referring to its teams as the Poets. Rowan’s teams go by Profs, and Hamline’s are Pipers.

Alliteration gives a mascot name a clever sound; Which do you like better, the Lakeland Muskies or the Muskingum Muskies? Puget Sound Loggers is cool, but Lake Forest Foresters seems more on point, though less imaginative. UW-Stevens Point has its Pointers, and if you know what a Mule is, you’ll remember how to pronounce Muhlenberg. Gettysburg Bullets might not seem all that neat until you think about the historical significance of the college’s location.

Maybe mascot names don’t mean all that much after all. Except for D3football.com senior writer Ryan Tipps offering to explain Wabash’s oxymoronic Little Giants and Ken DeBolt on Hobart’s Statesmen, nobody wrote in to give an impassioned plea for the confluence of school history and athletic pride in a team name. And it’s a fair guess that we love our unimaginatively named Panthers as much as Mass-Dartmouth loves its Corsairs.

There are 239 individual histories wrapped up in team names, some more important and involved than others. Over the years, D-III has wiped itself clean of American Indian-themed mascots except one. In 2006, Mississippi College got a letter of support from the board of a local tribe, earning the NCAA’s reluctant blessing to continue using Choctaws. There’s an involved history on why Williams calls itself the Ephs and uses a Purple Cow for its mascot.

Sometimes that history is stronger than one might imagine. Oberlin tried to become the Crimson Thunder instead of the Yeomen, but it never caught on. Heidelberg briefly went by just The ‘Berg, but re-embraced Student Princes.

In the end, the team name that best combines this history, along with uniqueness and football toughness is Knox and its Prairie Fire. The teams weren’t always called that, and you’ll have to read up on the name change on your own. But the new name has history, uniqueness and a zing to its sound that – were its football teams to be tough again – makes it the perfect D-III mascot name.

Your feedback: Great D-III mascot names and what makes one, on the Around the Nation message board thread.

Poll positions

Gripes about the top 25 are inevitable. Face it, you wish your team were ranked higher. From anecdotal evidence accumulated over 12 years, most of you who support winning teams believe they should be ranked higher. Pollsters obviously try to be as accurate as possible, but polls are subjective by nature, and thankfully play no role in determining who makes the playoffs or has a shot at D-III’s championship.

Voting does, however, require a person to step back from a one-team or one-conference focus and take a bird’s-eye view at all 239 teams. How can we compare conferences whose teams never play? Should one result trickle down and influence the ranking of several teams?

The most salient point to be made as Week 7 approaches is this: There are still 25 spots in the poll. Yet, NESCAC (three games into the season) aside, 20 teams are unbeaten at 4-0 or better. Thirty-six more teams are either 4-1 or 5-1, and that excludes two top-25 worthy teams from the SCIAC who are each 3-1 (Cal Lutheran and Redlands).

As long as there are 58 teams to consider for 25 spots, there are going to be some on the outside looking in. Frankly, when you compare resumes, everyone who hasn’t lost a game or has one loss isn’t top 25 worthy; remember the old Pat Coleman adage: It’s not who you lost to, it’s who you beat.

Sometimes it can be both.

In the case of Huntingdon, for example, its fans might have expected a bump after wins against Hampden-Sydney and Wittenberg (both ranked coming in) in recent weeks. Instead, their loss to Birmingham-Southern served to propel the Panthers into the poll at No. 24 this week. Logically, Huntingdon comes in behind a team it lost to, so its bounce from beating two sets of Tigers might not come until teams in front of them lose.

No. 10 Kean, on the other hand, has somehow dropped three spots behind No. 7 Wesley, which lost to the Cougars 31-28 in Week 1. Kean has certainly skated by for three weeks in a row, taking it easy on NJAC whipping post Western Connecticut, beating TCNJ, 7-6, and needing to rally for 17 fourth-quarter points to beat Buffalo State.

On one hand, Kean’s win over national power Wesley is the reason it’s ranked so high at all, coupled with its undefeated record. Huntingdon’s wins might be judged as impressive if only it weren’t anchored by a team it lost to just now breaking into the rankings.

Award watch

The Gagliardi Trophy ceremony moves up to Wednesday night this year, with the Stagg Bowl going from Saturday afternoon to Friday night. Last season was the first where all four finalists attended a presentation, complete with video montages and live D3football.com broadcast. So again this season, in what might be a wide-open race for D-III’s highest honor, you don’t have to have one of your team’s players up for the award to enjoy the ceremony.

Rivalry watch

Looking ahead to the classic clashes coming up (more updates to the list are coming):

Week 7 (This week):

The Goatrophy, Carleton at St. Olaf: The Oles’ touchdown club has a nice primer on the trophy game, and Pat Coleman went and wrote about it a few seasons back. These Northfield, Minn.-based MIAC rivals not only play for a trophy, but follow the game with a walk that rivals the storied Amherst-Williams postgame walks, and ends at an eagle statue that is turned toward the campus of the game’s winner. The teams have won on each other’s campuses the past two seasons.

Week 9 (Oct. 29)

Dutchman’s Shoes: RPI at Union

CBB, Part I: Bates at Colby

Week 10 (Nov. 5)

Little Brass Bell: Wheaton at North Central

Bronze Turkey game, Knox at Monmouth

Cranberry Bowl: Mass. Maritime at Bridgewater State

CBB, Part II: Bowdoin at Bates

Week 11 (Nov. 12)

Oldest rivalry in D-III: Amherst at Williams

Monon Bell: Wabash at DePauw

Cortaca Jug: Cortland State at Ithaca

The Game: Hampden-Sydney at Randolph-Macon

Victory Bell: Franklin at Hanover

Cornell at Coe

Wesleyan at Trinity

Moravian at Muhlenberg

CBB, Part III: Colby at Bowdoin

Bridge Bowl: Thomas More at Mount St. Joseph

Regents Cup: Frostburg State at Salisbury

Keystone Cup, Widener at Delaware Valley

Have rivalry games we should add to the list? E-mail keith.mcmillan@D3sports.com

Five Ways to Saturday

Follow Around the Nation …

• Throughout the week on Twitter. Follow @D3Keith. It’s a sporadic stream of short-form minutiae, most of it D-III related. It’s also the best way to directly converse with the column’s author.

• On Around the Nation’s Post Patterns thread, at the top of the General Football board. That’s the next best place to ask a question about a topic raised in the column, or continue a discussion unrelated to this week’s ATN.

• Mondays, Pat Coleman and I wrap up the week that was in our podcast. Download from iTunes or listen to it in the Daily Dose’s media player.

• When the column publishes on Thursdays.

• In Friday morning’s Triple Take, on The Daily Dose.

On Saturdays, The Daily Dose features a running game day thread and live chat, for real-time reactions from across the country.

The press box

Crowd sourcing: I’m still looking for fish-out-of-water tales. What’s it like being a certain race or religion on a campus and a team full of people completely unlike you? What’s it like being the team that thinks one way, playing a whole bunch of other teams who operate differently. Send thoughts or ideas by e-mail or Twitter, and I’ll help you flesh them out.

For the Love of the Game: Send us a picture of you wearing one of the shirts below, and we’ll feature it here:

Readers: Around the Nation encourages your opinions, questions and insights. Readers can best get a response by posting on Around the Nation's running thread on Post Patterns (under general football). Send email to keith.mcmillan@D3sports.com or use our feedback form.

Sports Information Directors: To contact Keith McMillan, use keith.mcmillan@d3sports.com, or mail to D3football.com, 12331 Midsummer Lane A102, Woodbridge, Va., 22192.

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Ryan Tipps

Ryan is D3football.com's Senior Editor and begins as National Columnist in fall 2014. He was the Around the Mid-Atlantic Columnist from 2007 to 2011; has worked on all but one of the preseason Kickoff publications; has done game-day writing and photography and the pregame broadcast at the championship Stagg Bowl in Salem for almost a decade; and has taken photos at the Final Four for D3hoops.com. He's also on the selection staff for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year award.

2001-2013 columnist: Keith McMillan.

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