Big 10 Background Checks: The Origins of Every Team's Nickname and Mascot
Hoosiers? Cornhuskers? Boilermakers? Like every major NCAA conference, the Big Ten has its fair share of odd nicknames and comical mascots.
Despite its name, the conference now has twelve members since Penn State joined in 1990 and the University of Nebraska's membership will become effective in July of 2011.
Each team has a rich history that reveals the reasoning behind their traditions, and for the curious college fans, I have done a background check on the 12 schools in the Big Ten.
Note: If you are interested in other NCAA, NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA nicknames, check out my profile for the articles.
Illinois Fighting Illini
The school's newspaper was named The Illini and often used the term in its articles.
The Illini's mascot used to be Chief Illiniwek until it was retired in 2007 due to controversy over Native American stereotypes.
Hoosier is the official nickname for residents of Indiana, which is known as the Hoosier State.
The team has no mascot.
The official nickname of Iowa is the Hawkeye State in reference to Chief Black Hawk of the Black Hawk War in 1832.
Herky the Hawk is the team's mascot and received his name from the legendary Hercules.
A land dispute between Ohio and Michigan in 1787 led to Ohioans calling the people of Michigan wolverines.The people saw the Michiganians as the ugliest, meanest, and fiercest creatures from the north.
It is said that Native Americans also gave them this derogatory nickname that also became one of the state's official nicknames.
The school does not have an official mascot, but it has used a live wolverine in the past.
Michigan St. Spartans
The school held a naming contest in 1925. Michigan Staters was the original winner, but local sportswriters sought for a shorter and more heroic nickname.
Spartans was chosen and quickly grew in popularity.
Their mascot is Sparty, a Spartan warrior.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Minnesota became the Gopher State in 1857 when a political cartoon placed gopher heads on local politicians.
The "golden" part of the nickname derives from the all gold attire that the team wore in the 1930s.
Goldy Gopher is the team's official mascot.
Before a newspaper article brought about the Cornhuskers nickname, Nebraska's teams were known as the Hawkeyes, Antelopes, Bugeaters, and Mankilling Mastodons.
Herbie Husker, pictured above, and Lil' Red, a costumed child with a backwards hat, are the school's two official mascot.
Orginally known as the Purple and Fighting Methodists, before a newspaper article which described the team as wildcats popularized the new name.
The team's first mascot was a caged bear, but in 1947 a costumed Willie the Wildcat took over.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio's state tree is the Buckeye.
Brutus the Buckeye is the team's mascot and his head is the nut of a Buckeye tree.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State's nickname refers to mountain lions that once lived locally on Mount Nittany near the college.
The mascot is also the Nittany Lion.
Newspapers popularized the nickname as they often dubbed the football team "boilermakers" after big victories.
It was used in reference to the engineering program at Purdue in the late 1800s that involved hands on courses in the forge working with hot metal.
Blacksmiths was also a common early nickname, but Boilermakers stuck.
The Boilermaker Special is the official locomotive mascot of the school, but Purdue Pete, as seen above, is present most often at sporting events.
Wisconsin is known as the Badger State because early miners had to burrow into hillsides like badgers because they lacked shelter from the harsh winter.
Buckingham U. Badger, Bucky for short, was chosen in a contest to be the team's official mascot.