12 of the Weirdest Team Names in College Sports, Explained
College sports teams aren’t exactly a bastion of creativity when it comes to names. Among Division I schools, there are 10 Wildcats, including Arizona, Kansas State, and Davidson; 15 Bulldogs (Georgia, Butler, Fresno State); 12 Tigers (Princeton, Memphis, Clemson); and 15 Eagles (including Niagara's Purple Eagles and Southern Miss' Golden Eagles). But beneath that pile of traditional zoo animals sits a handful of hilarious exceptions. From angry vegetables to yellow slugs to purple cows, here are some of the strangest and most original team names in all of college sports.
Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers
Looks Like: A “Whammy” who really let itself go.
Behind the Name: WKU goes by the Hilltoppers because, you guessed it, the campus is perched on top of a hill in Bowling Green. Weirder is the giant red, uh, thing that haunts the sidelines of every Hilltoppers game. Student Ralph Carey created the mascot back in 1979 to reflect both the spirit of the school and its team name, but we’re not sure Big Red espouses anything but genuine confusion among all those who gaze upon his darkened maw.
University of California at Santa Cruz Banana Slugs
Looks Like: Half Flik from A Bug’s Life, half Slurms McKenzie from Futurama.
Behind the Name: UCSC is known more for its stunning backdrop and laid-back atmosphere than its athletics, so, in the 1970s, the school’s club teams started calling themselves the “Banana Slugs.” The name hasn’t been without some controversy, though. When the school joined Division III athletics in 1980, the college’s chancellor attempted to make their mascot the sea lion, thinking that the creature was more “legitimate” than its forebear. Students revolted, and in 1986 they voted overwhelmingly to adopt the Banana Slug as their official mascot. Also, John Travolta wore a Banana Slugs shirt in Pulp Fiction, which should be enough to enshrine these slimy yellow dudes in the mascot hall of fame.
Saint Louis University Billikens
Looks Like: The Buddha (and also George Burns).
Behind the Name: So first things first: a Billiken is a good-luck figure akin to the red-and-white Daruma dolls in Japan. The Billiken was invented by an American illustrator named Florence Pretz in 1908 and, according to school legend, adopted by Saint Louis University’s football team not long after when the squad realized their coach, John Bender, bore an uncanny resemblance to the charmed creature. The Billiken will no doubt be an answer at a bar’s trivia night at some point in your life, so you’re welcome in advance.
California State University Long Beach Dirtbags
Looks Like: The Dirtbags don’t have a mascot, but we assume it would look like Scumbag Steve if they did.
Behind the Name: Sometimes the unofficial team names are a heck of a lot better than the sanctioned ones. Take the Cal State Long Beach Dirtbags. (Official university team name: the 49ers.) The school’s baseball team has been a powerhouse since the early ’90s; since 2010 they’ve produced more major league players -- including Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria, and Jered Weaver -- than any other college. But back in 1989, the team was a relatively obscure ragtag squad that practiced on an all-dirt field without a home stadium. The scrappiness that developed on that glorified sandlot led to a dream season where the team won its first 18 games and went to the College World Series. Ever since then they’ve been known as the Dirtbags, a moniker that every player who takes the field in gold and black is proud to embody.
Delta State University Fighting Okra
Looks Like: If Squidward and a jalapeño had a love child and the kid always wore boxing gloves.
Behind the Name: The Mississippi institution officially goes by the “Statesman” which, snooze. But sports fans know them better as the Fighting Okra thanks to a particularly rambunctious iteration of the school’s baseball team, who started attending basketball games and got bored of the vanilla mascot. The baseball players wanted something “green, Southern, and ugly,” hence the Fighting Okra was born. Old timers in the alumni group didn’t like the name at first, but the student body lobbied hard to keep the angry vegetable and now it adorns everything from sweatshirts to necklaces at the campus bookstore.
Williams College Purple Cows
Looks Like: If Grimace started a farming co-op in rural Massachusetts.
Behind the Name: The Williamstown, Massachusetts, liberal arts college is consistently near the top of national school rankings in academics, but their team isn’t winning any mascot contests. Williams' teams officially go by the “Ephs,” since it was founded by Colonel Ephraim Williams. But when it came time to vote on a mascot for the college's sports teams in 1907, the students chose the title of a comedy magazine popular on campus at the time. The Purple Cow mascot's name? Ephelia, of course.
New York University Violets
Looks Like: Wait, they’re called the Violets but the mascot is a bobcat? This is worse than Stanford and that dumb-looking tree.
Behind the Name: Apparently, there are competing schools of thought as to where NYU’s team got its unique nickname: One side thinks it's an homage to the beds of violets that were planted in front of many of the campus’ original buildings, while others think it’s a philosophical tribute to the flower of Athens, that historical center of knowledge in ancient Greece. Regardless of where the name comes from, everyone can agree that a flower isn’t going to strike fear into the hearts of many rivals even if the plant could “fight” somehow. In fact, when the school relaunched their basketball team in the ’80s after a long hiatus and put an anthropomorphic flower on the sidelines, the squad was so embarrassed that the following year, NYU officially changed the mascot to a bobcat.
Evergreen State College Geoducks
Looks Like: A weird-looking pickle that somehow found a jacket made out of clamshells.
Behind the Name: Evergreen State College is a pretty progressive and peaceful place, and the school leaders needed a mascot that would match the general vibe of the Olympia, Washington, institution. Enter the geoduck. (Pronounced “gooey duck.”) The giant clam -- it’s neither gooey, nor a duck -- reflects the flexibility, tranquility, and environmentally-attuned nature of the school. It also looks hilarious, which is really what’s important here.
University of Evansville Purple Aces
Looks Like: If Scoops Callahan experienced a spiritual awakening at Paisley Park.
Behind the Name: If there’s one mascot that looks like it hasn’t been updated since its creation, it’s Ace Purple from the University of Evansville. The team name originated in the 1920s when the school trounced the University of Louisville in basketball, leading the opposing coach to remark that the Evansville coach had “five aces up his sleeve.” That comment, combined with the college’s traditional purple-and-white color scheme, birthed a new nickname and later, the creation of the mustachioed mascot. Even though the dapper dude looks like an old-timey reporter, Ace Purple is actually a riverboat gambler who exemplifies the “cunning, daring, quick wit, and shrewd judgement” that defines the school’s teams.
University of Akron Zips
Looks Like: A goofy kangaroo, for some reason.
Behind the Name: Even though the University of Akron is cheered on by a female kangaroo named Zippy, the school’s team name is actually an homage to the one of the city’s original industries. BF Goodrich is known mostly for tires nowadays, but back in the ’20s, the company manufactured rubber overshoes called “Zippers,” which the college adopted as their official team name in 1927 and later shortened to "Zips." (The marsupial was chosen to serve as the school’s mascot in the 1950s.) Fun fact: Zippy is one of only eight female college mascots in the US.
Whittier College Poets
Looks Like: A founding father who had a serious cosmetic surgery addiction.
Behind the Name: The origin of the California college’s team nickname is pretty straightforward: the school’s founder was the Quaker poet and prominent abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier. (He’s also the namesake of the city.) In recent years they’ve adopted the slogan “Fear the Poet,” which doesn’t really make sense unless you have a strong aversion to goose feather quill pens.
Wichita State University Shockers
Looks Like: If a shriveled carrot applied self-tanner in “Movie Theater Butter Substitute” Yellow.
Behind the Name: The Shockers trace their roots back to the turn of the 20th century, when the football team’s manager learned that many of his athletes made money harvesting or “shocking” wheat in the offseason. Hence, their mascot ("WuShock") is a muscle-bound stalk of wheat, which is a lot more threatening when you think about how much wheat there is in Kansas and what would happen if they somehow all sprouted legs and started hitting the gym.