20 Strangest Division I Team Names

An article compiling the 20 strangest Division I team names is immediately going to come under attack by readers who question the methodology used for including a school on this list. After all, a college's reputation can be impacted by rankings, however silly they may be.

When researching all Division I colleges and universities for other articles using a fair, balanced, highly scientific, and entirely empirical system of evaluation—studying their retention rates, graduation rates, selectivity, and financial aid—we came up with an in-depth analysis containing lovely data, but that wasn't useful for this list. During this process, it came to our attention that many schools have strange names, and we set out to choose the strangest. Not objective, necessarily, but thorough.

Now that you're fully satisfied with an explanation of the methodology used, here is the list, arranged alphabetically. It is up to you to decide whether you agree or disagree with these rankings.

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Akron Zips

Akron Zips
The University of Akron Zips. Drawing by Laura Reyome

We begin with the University of Akron Zips. What is a zip, you ask? The term usually refers to something fast or something that zips up, but the reality for this university seems to be a little of both. The original costume for the University of Akron mascot debuted in 1954 and included a paper mâché kangaroo head and a zip-up brown furry uniform. The choice of the kangaroo makes a lot of sense because of, um, all the kangaroos running around Eastern Ohio?

The Zips compete in the NCAA Mid-American Conference.

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Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama Crimson Tide. Drawing by Laura Reyome

There's a reason why the M.I.T. Beavers call their athletic teams the Engineers—some mascots have just a little too much connotation attached to them. The University of Alabama, however, seems to have moved in the opposite direction. The university's mascot is Big Al, an elephant. But if you've ever watched a minute of college football, you know the team is the Alabama Crimson Tide, not the Alabama Elephants.

The team got its name in 1907 during a game against Auburn played in a sea of mud in which Alabama held its own against Auburn, a team expected to crush them—Alabama's school colors, crimson and white, also played a role in the cultivation of the new name.

Roll Tide.

Alabama ranks among the top South Central universities, and it competes in the NCAA Southeastern Conference (SEC).

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Arizona State Sun Devils

Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State Sun Devils. Drawing by Laura Reyome

Like many universities, Arizona State has no idea who came up with the name of its athletic teams, which is clear evidence that more people need to major in history. What is known is that in 1946, the school's moniker suddenly changed from the Bulldogs to the Sun Devils. But who really cares who made the change? What's important is that the change was made. After all, a bulldog is a broad-shouldered, intimidating animal while a sun devil is a... um... ah... what the heck is a Sun Devil? It probably has something to do with the dry heat.

Whatever a Sun Devil is, it belongs on this list.

ASU ranks as one of the top colleges in the mountain states, and the school competes in the NCAA PAC 12 Conference.

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Campbell Fighting Camels

Campbell Fighting Camels
Campbell University Fighting Camels. Drawing by Laura Reyome

With all the camels living in the United States, it's surprising that Campbell University is the only school in the country to adopt the camel for the branding of its athletic programs. The teams are the Fighting Camels and the Lady Camels, and the mascot is Gaylord the Camel. The school is located in Buies Creek, North Carolina, an area that must be overrun with wild camels.

The precise reason why the camel was chosen as the school mascot is stated clearly on the Campbell University website: "There is still uncertainty as to why the unique mascot was chosen." 

Campell University is a member of the NCAA Big South Conference.

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Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. Drawing by Laura Reyome

The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers are one of the few teams on this list with a clear origin story. Anyone who has taken a course on Chaucer will understand why the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers deserve a place on this list of unusual team names, but if you haven't, here's the deal.

Chanticleer is a rooster in the Nun's Priest's Tale of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. The story follows the adventures of this bird as he is captured by a fox that he eventually outsmarts and escapes from. The Coastal Carolina website describes our heroic rooster in modern English, but you probably prefer to read the description in the original Middle English:

"A yeerd she hadde, enclosed al aboute
With stikkes, and a drye dych withoute,
In which she hadde a Cok, hight Chauntecleer,
In al the land of crowyng nas his peer.
His voys was murier than the murie orgon
On messe-dayes, that in the chirche gon.
Wel sikerer was his crowyng in his logge,
Than is a clokke, or an abbey orlogge.
By nature he crew eche ascencioun
Of the equynoxial in thilke toun;
For whan degrees fiftene weren ascended,
Thanne crew he, that it myghte nat been amended.
His coomb was redder than the fyn coral,
And batailled, as it were a castel wal.
His byle was blak, and as the jeet it shoon,
Lyk asure were hise legges and his toon,
His nayles whiter than the lylye flour,
And lyk the burned gold was his colour," (Chaucer 1990).

The passage should make clear Coastal Carolina's reasons for adopting this poultry for its athletic moniker. The university's website does explain the choice of a Chantecleer, but the explanation actually ignores the fact that Chaucer's Chanticleer is presented ironically with lots of mock chivalric language. 

Located in Conway, South Carolina, this university is a member of the NCAA Big South Conference.

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Cornell Big Red

Cornell Big Red
Cornell Big Red. Drawing by Laura Reyome

As a member of the prestigious Ivy League, Cornell University must have had a lot of brain power to draw from when it needed to come up with a team name and mascot. Another possibility is that people in the Ivy League really don't care all that much about athletics. Whatever the case, Cornell University has been around for nearly 150 years and still does not have an official mascot or team name.

Unlike many universities, however, Cornell does know where the unofficial Big Red name comes from. In 1905, a Cornell graduate was writing a new football song. The team had no name and the uniforms were red, so in a moment of enlightenment he called it "the big, red team." It's truly an inspiring story.

On another note, the unofficial mascot is the bear, but the above illustration captures the spirit of the team just as well. After all, it's red.

Located in Ithaca, New York, Cornell is one of the most selective universities on this list.

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Dartmouth Big Green

Dartmouth Big Green
Dartmouth Big Green. Drawing by Laura Reyome

Cornell's teams got the name Big Red because they were big and red, so it stands to reason that Dartmouth's teams are called the Big Green because they are big and green. However, such an assumption would be only partly correct. Dartmouth had been the Indians up until the mid-1970s when the college's board of trustees concluded that the Indian symbol was at odds with the school's efforts to advance Native American education. It was at this time that the Big Green nickname came into use.

The name, however, is more than a simple reference to the school's color. At the heart of Dartmouth's picture-perfect New England campus is a big town or village green (see it here).

Cornell, however, has a leg up on Dartmouth by having a bear as a mascot. Dartmouth, one of the oldest colleges in the country, has never been able to settle on a mascot and consequently has none.

It is time to remedy this deficit, and our artist's illustration shows how. You must admit that the Dartmouth Broccoli has a nice ring to it. And broccoli, when steamed perfectly, is precisely the right shade of green for Dartmouth. For the naysayers who think that a broccoli mascot lacks the ability to evoke fear in a rival team, you could visit any school and witness how the students avoid broccoli almost religiously. And if you want to up the fear factor, the name could be changed to the Dartmouth Battling Broccoli, the Fighting Florets, or, most terrifying of all, the Overcooked Broccoli.

Dartmouth is a member of the Ivy League and boasts the lowest acceptance rate of any school on this list. For the class of 2024, only 8.8% of applicants were admitted.

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Evansville Purple Aces

Evansville Purple Aces
Evansville Purple Aces. Drawing by Laura Reyome

When your school colors are purple and white and you decide that your Pioneers team name isn't catchy enough, you might just end up with the nickname the Purple Aces. And if you need a mascot, how about Ace Purple, a riverboat gambler from the turn of the twentieth century? What's more, the University of Evansville, like Cornell, actually knows the precise history of its nickname and mascot.

The name originated in a basketball game against the University of Louisville in the mid-1920s. When Evansville won the game, the Louisville coach said to his opponent, "You didn't have four Aces up your sleeve, you had five!"

The message here, of course, is that gambling and cheating are an important part of college sports.

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University of Idaho Vandals

Idaho Vandals
Idaho Vandals. Drawing by Laura Reyome

While you might be picturing a group of ne'er-do-wells slashing tires and smashing windows when you hear this team name, the University of Idaho Vandals derive their name from a somewhat different usage of the word. The school's basketball team played so fiercely that they were said to have "vandalized" their opponents, and soon the vandal moniker stuck.

The word vandalize comes from a fifth-century East Germanic tribe, the Vandals, who, in early history, were portrayed as barbarians who sacked Rome. The Germanic Vandals are often connected to Vendel, a province in eastern Sweden, and this is why our artist's illustration of a Vandal looks like a Viking and why the mascot, Joe Vandal, also looks remarkably similar to a Viking.

Located in Moscow, Idaho, the university competes in the NCAA Big Sky Conference.

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University of Minnesota Golden Gophers

Minnesota Golden Gophers
Minnesota Golden Gophers. Drawing by Laura Reyome

What better way to intimidate your rivals than to name your team after a small, burrowing rodent. Early in the state's history, opponents of calling Minnesota the Gopher State argued that gophers were too lowly, insignificant, and destructive to represent the state. But when a political cartoon was published in 1857 satirizing local politicians by representing them with gopher bodies, the phrase stuck. And once Minnesota became the Gopher State, it didn't take long for the University of Minnesota athletic teams to become the Gophers.

But even the most undignified rodent can be transformed into something admirable with a quick coat of gold paint. It was in the 1930s that the Golden Gopher name took hold.

Located in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, the University of Minnesota is a member of the NCAA Big Ten Conference.

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Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State Buckeyes. Drawing by Laura Reyome

The Ohio State University's Buckeye moniker is better known than most on this list, but that doesn't mean it isn't strange.

The Ohio State website answers the common question, what is a buckeye? In short, it's the nut from an Ohio buckeye tree. This is why Ohio State made this list of strange team names. After all, the other 19 members of this list at least named their teams after something that can move.

That's right—a buckeye is a nut. Feeling intimidated? How about when you see the school's mascot, Brutus Buckeye, whose head is, of course, an over-sized nut? Granted, buckeyes are not edible, so the label is a bit more effective than other possibilities like the Ohio State Cashews or Ohio State Macadamias.

With its main campus in Columbus, Ohio, OSU is a highly rated public university that competes in the NCAA Big Ten Conference.

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Presbyterian College Blue Hose

Presbyterian Blue Hose
Presbyterian Blue Hose. Drawing by Laura Reyome

Our artist took a rather literal interpretation of Blue Hose when making this drawing. One might have pictured the Blue Stockings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a group of intellectual women whose name most likely referred to the woolen worsted stockings associated with their informal attire.

While hosiery may seem a rather strange inspiration for a team name, it turns out this it's actually pretty spot on. According to Presbyterian College's website, the Blue Hose nickname originated in the early twentieth century when Presbyterian's athletic director changed the school's uniform color to blue, and players wore blue jerseys and blue stockings.

You will need to read more than the headline on the Presbyterian website to learn that the Hose really does refer to hosiery. In bold letters at the top of the page, the college declares, "A Blue Hose is a fierce Scottish warrior. If you have ever seen the movie Braveheart, you have seen a true Blue Hose." The college has embraced this warrior image, but the Blue Stocking interpretation is historically more accurate.

Located in Clinton, South Carolina, Presbyterian is one of several schools on this list that competes in the Big South Conference.

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Purdue Boilermakers

Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue Boilermakers. Drawing by Laura Reyome

The Purdue University website asks the question in many of our minds: What is a Boilermaker? If it's simply someone who makes boilers, well, that's a rather unglamorous team image.

Yet that's exactly what the nickname is. Since it's founding in 1869, the university has educated students with working-class backgrounds for utilitarian careers, a practice the school continues today with its many strengths in engineering and other professional fields. When the college first emerged as a football powerhouse in the late nineteenth century, the newspapers in rival communities disparaged the Purdue athletes with names such as "coal heavers" and "boilermakers."

Purdue's engineering and agriculture history is captured by the university's official mascot, the Boilermaker Special. It's a replica nineteenth-century steam locomotive that, quite frankly, could easily squash the mascots of most of the schools on this list.

Purdue, located in West Lafayette, Indiana, ranks among the top public universities and top engineering schools in the country. The athletic teams compete in the NCAA Big Ten Conference.

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Saint Louis Billikens

Saint Louis Billikens
Saint Louis Billikens. Drawing by Laura Reyome

Of course the Saint Louis University Billikens had to make this list of strange team names and mascots. The Billiken, according to the SLU website, was made famous by illustrator Florence Pretz in the first decade of the 20th century. She portrayed her Billiken as a short, pudgy, smiling creature with pointed ears and a small knot of hair on the top of his otherwise bald head. The creature was supposed to bring good luck, and it was once transformed into all kinds of kitsch—hood ornaments, coin banks, belt buckles, pickle forks, key chains, statuettes, and other forms of eBay treasure.

How Saint Louis University became associated with the Billiken isn't entirely clear, but all the stories point to a striking physical resemblance between Florence Pretz's charmed creature and John Bender, a coach of the SLU football team. And while the Billiken fad was short-lived, the Billiken name has been with Saint Louis University's athletic teams for over 100 years now.

The University of Saint Louis is one of the top Catholic universities in the country and its teams compete in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

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Stetson Hatters

Stetson Hatters
Stetson Hatters. Drawing by Laura Reyome

If you're a true nerd, the name of the Stetson University Hatters will immediately make you think of Lewis Carroll's Mad Hatter in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Nerdier yet, you might think of the Mad Hatter who battled Batman in DC comics.

You're almost certainly reading this not because you're a sports fan, but because you want a history lesson, so here goes: those hatters were mad ("mad as a hatter") because a couple hundred years ago mercury was used in the manufacture of hats, and it turns out that constant exposure to mercury isn't good for your brain. It's why you shouldn't suck the liquid out of thermometers or build your house on top of the smokestack of a coal power plant.

However, no mercury or madness was involved in the Stetson name. The Stetson cowboy hat was originally manufactured by John B. Stetson, the first benefactor of Stetson University. Not that long ago, the university unveiled its new mascot, John B. 

Stetson ranks among the best Florida colleges and its teams compete in the NCAA Atlantic Sun Conference.

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Stony Brook Seawolves

Stony Brook Seawolves
Stony Brook Seawolves. Drawing by Laura Reyome

It's not entirely clear whether Stony Brook is worthy of inclusion on this list since the Seawolf really isn't a unique mascot. Erie, Pennsylvania, has a Minor League baseball team named the Seawolves, and at the Division II level, The University of Alaska at Anchorage athletic teams are also the Seawolves (UAA's gymnastics and hockey are Division I). Still, you'll find that your computer puts red squiggles under the word seawolf, and even the teams that have the mascot don't agree on what it is.

In Erie, mascot C. Wolf is a gray wolf dressed as a pirate. Alaska's Seawolf, on the other hand, is based on a Tlingit Indian legend of a mythical sea creature. Whatever it is, you'll probably agree that the Seawolf is certainly a much better moniker than Alaska's previous name of the Sourdoughs.

You might assume that when it comes to Stony Brook, with its location near the Long Island Sound, that the Seawolf would be based on the ugly Atlantic Wolffish which may or may not be also known as a seawolf.

This assumption, though, would be wrong. Stony Brook, like Alaska, defines the seawolf as a mythical sea creature. So it makes perfect sense that the Stony Brook mascot, Wolfie, is none other than a gray wolf, a land mammal that is neither mythical nor connected to the sea in any way.

Stony Brook competes in the American East Conference.

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UMKC Kangaroos

UMKC Kangaroos
UMKC Kangaroos. Drawing by Laura Reyome

If you think the kangaroo makes for a rather lame mascot, you've obviously never been kicked by one. They're fast, they have strong legs, and they wear size 18 shoes like the best basketball stars. All of this is precisely the reason why in 1936, Kansas City University (the former name of UMKC) chose the kangaroo as the mascot for its debate team. Yes, debate. Not even Division I debate. Okay, the history isn't so glorious, but kangaroo does rhyme with KCU, and in that historic year when the university chose its mascot, the Kansas City Zoo had just purchased two baby kangaroos. 

Now you may be asking yourself why an article on the most unusual mascots and team names has two schools with kangaroos (remember the Akron Zips?). Well, if 20 schools had kangaroos as mascots, all of them would be featured here. Go 'Roos!

The University of Missouri at Kansas City competes in the NCAA Summit League.

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Virginia Tech Hokies

Virginia Tech Hokies
Virginia Tech Hokies. Drawing by Laura Reyome

So in 1896, Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College changed its name to the much more concise and poetic Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute. For some reason, folks wanted to shorten that 23-syllable name to V.P.I. With the new name, the school needed a new cheer. A senior, who may or may not have been sober at the time, won a contest with this:

Hoki, Hoki, Hoki, Hy.
Techs, Techs, V.P.I.
Sola-Rex, Sola-Rah.
Polytechs - Vir-gin-ia.
Rae, Ri, V.P.I.

The beauty of this composition assured its immortality. Even though the word Hoki had no meaning, the school was not deterred. Early in the 20th century, Virginia Tech called its teams the Fighting Gobblers, and by the late 20th century, the Hokie and the Gobbler were combined to create the HokieBird, the turkey-like in the illustration above.

Located in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech ranks among the top public universities and top engineering schools in the country. Its athletic teams compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

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Wichita State Shockers

Wichita State Shockers
Wichita State Shockers. Drawing by Laura Reyome

The name Wichita State Shockers seems to suggest electrocution and an intimidating ability to strike down opponents with a bolt of lightning. The actual definition of the word is a bit less awe inspiring: one who harvests wheat.

Apparently, the name dates back to a 1904 poster for a football game. The team earned the shockers label because many of the early players harvested wheat to earn money. A shock is a bundle of grain stacked in a field for drying. A shocker is the person harvesting and stacking the grain. Although lightning bolts might be more dramatic, you may want to put your money on the athletes out there clearing thousands of acres of grain.

The Shockers are a member of the NCAA American Athletic Conference.

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Youngstown State Penguins

Youngstown State Penguins
Youngstown State Penguins. Drawing by Laura Reyome

You may not associate Ohio with penguins, but perhaps back when Youngstown State University was founded in 1908, Ohio was much colder. After all, global warming hadn't taken effect yet. The fact that penguins live almost exclusively in the southern hemisphere shouldn't discourage this theory.

Youngstown State does have the honor of being the only Division I team to have the Penguins moniker. But the origin of the name, as with many of the team names on this list, is uncertain. What is known is that the Youngstown basketball team was in West Virginia playing a game on a cold and snowy day in January of 1933. By the end of the experience, the team had adopted the Penguin name. 

Youngstown State competes in the NCAA The Horizon League.


Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Nun's Priest's Tale." The Canterbury Tales. Simon & Schuster, 1990.

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Your Citation
Grove, Allen. "20 Strangest Division I Team Names." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/strangest-division-i-team-names-788263. Grove, Allen. (2020, August 27). 20 Strangest Division I Team Names. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/strangest-division-i-team-names-788263 Grove, Allen. "20 Strangest Division I Team Names." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/strangest-division-i-team-names-788263 (accessed June 1, 2023).