Some of the strangest logos and mascots from this year’s tournament

Some of the strangest logos and mascots from this year’s tournament

Taking a look at some of the strangest mascots in this year’s Big Dance.

As an avid basketball fan, March Madness is my favorite time of the year. Not only are 68 of the best teams in the country battling it out for a championship for three straight weeks, but the inclusion of smaller schools creates some of the best stories in all of sports. Small schools can etch their names into March lore with incredible March runs, like Butler, VCU, and Loyola University of Chicago making Final Four runs out of nowhere as unheralded double digit seeds. Sometimes all it takes is one incredible upset, like UMBC’s unprecedented win over number one seed Virginia last year, for a team to become March legends. March Madness is the perfect stage to catapult schools from all over the country and of all different sizes into the national spotlight. It is also the first times that many people become aware of these schools and their mascots. And sometimes these mascots are quite strange.

I will take a look at some of this year’s strangest, cuddliest, and most disturbing mascots participating in the Madness. This list will only include teams from this season’s Big Dance, which narrowly edges out one of college sport’s most unsettling mascots. That would be Western Kentucky’s Big Red, a red blob of a creature who’s almost all mouth and has dead, glossy eyes (and also eats people), who just missed the tournament after the WKU Hilltoppers lost to Old Dominion in the Conference USA Tournament. I also won’t talk about Syracuse’s Otto the Orange, a perplexing anthropomorphic orange who always wears a hat, because Syracuse is one of the better known brands in the sport. I’ll only focus on the lesser known college basketball teams in this article.

Lastly, before we begin I’d like to quickly remind everyone that the people who fill out their brackets based solely on mascots or team colors are the worst and will probably still do better than you or I because the Madness doesn’t make any sense.

Gardner Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs

Virginia was upset last year by a sweet-shooting 16th seed with a lovable dog mascot. That was the UMBC Chesapeake Retrievers which led to all sorts of Retriever Mania. It got to the extent that the school even sought to trademark the word Retrievers. This year the Virginia ‘Hoos will take on another 16th seed with a lovable dog mascot, the Gardner Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs. Will lightning strike twice?

Probably not, as Virginia will want to crush any 16th seed it ever sees again after last year’s embarrassing 20 point defeat. But let’s take a moment to appreciate the Runnin’ (this abbreviation makes every college nickname sound cooler, see UNLV) Bulldog as a mascot. Bulldogs as college sport mascots are on a level all by themselves with dozens of schools being represented by the slobbering, smushed-faced, inbred, adorable dogs. But I cannot think of a more heartwarming sight than watching a bulldog run. This is a truly unique take on the simple bulldog mascot that everyone from Yale to Georgia features. The logo depicts an angry bulldog aggressively running, but all I can picture is a bulldog awkwardly stumbling as it tries to run, breathing very heavily as it runs toward a treat. If Gardner Webb can pull off the upset, these bulldogs will be runnin’ right into America’s heart.

Vermont Catamounts

Now we will ramp up the strangeness and talk about the team that knocked UMBC out of this year’s tournament, the Vermont Catamounts. Vermont is a 13 seed who will take on Florida State in the first round of the tournament but I am more curious to find out what a catamount actually is.

Much to my dismay, a catamount is just another name for a mountain lion (which already has many other names including puma and cougar). So why is Vermont the Catamounts? According to a paper at UVM, in 1926 students were given a vote to decide the new mascot and their choices were between a tomcat, cow, camel (the Campbell Camels almost got into the Big Dance this year) and a catamount which eventually won due to the lack of strength in the rest of the field (camels in Vermont would have been interesting).

Catamounts is a cool name at least, which makes up for the fact that they aren’t some mysterious creature. But they are completely gone from Vermont itself, with the last catamount spotted in 1881. Mountain lions are gone from the entire northeast and only exist in Florida on the east coast of the U.S. But this is not the post to get down about extinction, so we’ll end on the fact that the Vermont Catamount mascot is named Rally! That’s, uh, fun!

UC Irvine Anteaters

Now for something completely out of left field, I present the UC Irvine Anteaters. To the best of my knowledge, anteaters are not native to Orange County and have nothing to do with that area. And, in fact, it doesn’t have anything to do with anything UC Irvine. Some waterpolo players in the sixties just liked a comic strip with a cartoon anteater that yelled “ZOT”, and campaigned for it to become the school’s mascot. “ZOT” is still the battle cry of the Irvine anteaters. Peter the Anteater was officially adopted as the school’s mascot in 1965 and, according to the school’s website, “embraces the power of being different and captures the heart of each member of the ‘Eater Nation.”

Anteaters are a quirky choice for a mascot that I stand behind 100 percent. Giant anteaters are native to South America and have tongues that are two feet long which help them fish ants and termites out of the ground. It also has very long claws and the lowest body temperature of any mammal, two facts that make UC Irvine opponents shake in their boots while thinking about playing the anteaters. They’ll hope for a similar effect when they take on number 4 seed Kansas State in the first round.

Wofford Terriers

This is less of a strange mascot than a logo I think is cool. Terriers are a slightly more unexpected dog mascot than a bulldog and the Wofford logo is a terrier aggressively bearing its teeth and trying in vain to be scary. It’s just too cute. Wofford’s real life mascot is named Blitz and they are currently on the third incarnation with Blitz III aka Magnolia (thoughts and prayers to Blitz I and Blitz II). The Terriers are posed to possibly “scare” a few opponents with a seventh seed and an explosive scoring guard named Fletcher Magee. They’ll have to get past the Seton Hall Pirates in the first round, however.

St. Louis Billikens

This year’s group of mid-major mascots is pretty mundane compared with the likes of the UAB Dragons or the Wichita State Shockers. But that all changes when you take a look at 13th seeded St. Louis and its slightly terrifying mascot, the Billiken. SLU claims that Billikens are good luck charms but they look more like a marshmallow goblin to me. The Billiken was created by a Missouri art teacher in 1908 and became a national sensation, according to the school’s site. The Billiken became SLU’s mascot around 1910, when their football coach is said to have resembled this off-putting good luck charm. The Billiken statue outside of SLU’s arena looks nothing like their logo and is just a shirtless man with a man bun and big feet. People are supposed to rub his belly for good luck but it gives me the creeps. Best of luck to St. Louis, reigning Atlantic 10 champions who will be taking on the 4 seed Virginia Tech Hokies. A March run could vault the Billiken into a similar sphere as the Wichita State Shocker, an equally bizarre and more improbable (being a stack of wheat) mascot for a sports team.

Rapid Fire (so you can say at least something about these obscure teams):

Northern Kentucky is known as the Norse and have a mascot named Victor E. Viking, who is a viking as you may have guessed.

The Liberty mascot is named Sparky the Eagle, which is very exciting.

Abilene Christian, who is playing in its first NCAA Tournament, will try to win the battle of the wildcats when the team and mascot Willie the Wildcat take on Kentucky and their unnamed wildcat. Good luck Willie!

There are two teams nicknamed the Gaels in this year’s tournament, with 16th seed Iona and 11th seed St. Mary’s.

Colgate is the Raiders, which has nothing to do with toothpaste I believe.

You also have a couple of bears in this year’s tourney with the Montana Grizzlies and the Belmont Bruins, not to be confused with the UCLA Bruins who lost at home to Belmont earlier this season. They were out-bruined by Belmont and are watching the tournament from home this year.