Wild card: It’s raining cats and dogs (nicknames)

It occurred to me several years ago that there’s a whole lot of unoriginality in college sports when it comes to institution nicknames and mascots. Simply perusing the list of Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, still I-A if you’re an old fogey like me), you see quite a few Tigers, Wildcats, and other felines.

Teams, fortunately, have avoided the “House Cats” and “Kittens” monikers to date.

Canine nicknames, while not as prevalent, are still used by a handful of teams, as well. As best as I can tell, 31 of the 128 teams–nearly one in every four–playing at the FBS level this season possess nicknames of cats and dogs, albeit not of the domesticated sort. If you add in birds and bears, you start closing in on half of the division. But for the sake of simplicity, I’ll stick with cats and dogs for now.

Some FBS conferences are worse offenders than others when it comes to derivative nicknames. Only two of the fourteen teams in the Big Ten; three of fourteen in the ACC; one of ten in the Big 12; two of thirteen in C-USA; two of twelve in the MAC and Pac-12; three of twelve in the AAC; and three of eleven in the MWC use canines or felines. In the Sun Belt, four of eleven programs are transgressors, but the Southeastern Conference takes the cake. Six of the fourteen member institutions make use of relatives of dogs or cats for their nickname. Even worse, two of the four schools in all of FBS known as “Bulldogs” are in the SEC, as well as three of the five “Tigers.” Worse, still, is the fact that two other teams, while possessing nondescript nicknames, still employ dogs as their mascots.

Given the prevalence of cats and dogs in the SEC, I thought it would be fun to look at how many intra-conference games feature at least one such school. I compiled a list of the 2015 conference schedule. In it you’ll see, by week, feline (Auburn, Kentucky, LSU, and Mizzou) and canine (Georgia and Mississippi State) schools highlighted in the two shades of blue; nondescript-nickname-with-canine-mascot schools (Tennessee and Texas A&M) in red; and all others (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Vandy) in orange.

In the fourth column, I marked an ‘x’ by all games featuring at least one canine or feline institution. The ‘y’ signifies those match-ups between Tennessee or A&M and one of the innocent parties, as it pertains to this topic. The ‘o’ denotes games between two teams from the last category.

On the season, the fourteen-team SEC contested 56 games–eight games by each school. For starters, ten games were between both schools of the canine or feline persuasion. Fortunately, only one of these was between two identically-name schools: Auburn at LSU on September 19. Thanks to the scheduling gods, East division Mizzou avoided both West division Tigers–they play Arkansas every year, and Mississippi State this year. And Mississippi State (Kentucky and Mizzou) and Georgia (Alabama and Auburn) were not drawn against one another, either.

Not too crazy, right? Thirty-eight included at least one school named after a cat or dog. And if you throw Tennessee and A&M into the mix, only eight conference contests in 2015 featured two teams with slightly more original nicknames. Indeed, of those six schools, no other FBS program uses the same nickname. That means 48 of 56 games played within the SEC this season featured at least one team bearing the wholly unoriginal Tigers, Wildcats, or Bulldogs moniker or employing a live dog as its mascot.

Fortunately, the only hope for a cat or dog to make it to the SEC title game was dashed when LSU lost to Arkansas last night, while Alabama destroyed Mississippi State. Florida already clinched the SEC East and a trip to the Georgia Dome a week ago; only the Crimson Tide and Ole Miss Rebels could possibly do so now from the West. Ultimately, though, it’s just a tiny bit annoying that several teams, despite unique origin stories (well, despite Mizzou and LSU both being named after Civil War-era regiments), arrived at similar nicknames.


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