The new UT-RGV campus will be opening in the fall of 2015, which doesn’t give the school a ton of time to figure out some of the important details: Like, for example, what the school’s mascot will be. UT-RGV replaces both UTPA and UT-Brownsville, which were proudly represented by the Broncs and the Ocelots, respectively. However, both of those names failed to make the cut of the ten names currently under consideration for the new school—a fact that, according to the McAllen Monitor, has some former Broncs a little bummed out:
Jim Board, a former Broncs basketball player during the mid 1960s who has donated $45,000 per year to the athletics department over the past decade, was also disappointed to hear of the imminent change.
“I don’t like it, but I guess we’re going to have to live with it,” Board said.
Board said the UTPA alumni base is “not strong,” and that he wishes more graduates would give back to the university. Despite the lack of involvement, he thinks that group should have more input than current students.
“They’ve never been Broncs. They’re nothing. They’re just students,” Board said. “They ought to let the alumni decide.”
“They’re nothing” is a harsh sentence, but it’s also not necessarily an inaccurate one: on the UT-Pan Am campus, you were always more likely to see casual students wearing, say, Longhorn orange or other colors from Division I schools than Broncs gear, which is perhaps part of what happens when you have a campus populated largely by local commuters. With the new school attempting to establish a new culture and a new identity, discarding the Broncs—and the regionally-appropriate Ocelots—is a necessary sacrifice.
Rather than shed tears for the Broncs and the Ocelots, the school is focused on the future. It recruited 15 UTPA students, and 15 UTB students, to contemplate how the new school should be branded. Let’s take a look at the list they came up with, and weigh the pros and cons.
Pros: The UT-RGV Aztecs are a strong contender—it’s both a tough-sounding name (we’d hate to repeat the El Paso Chihuahuas fiasco of 2013)—and captures the region’s ties to Mexico. The location of the Aztec ancestral home of Aztlán is, of course, unknown, but there are some who claim that, rather than Central Mexico, it could have been as far north as the southwestern part of what is now the United States.
Cons: Most likely, Aztlán was considerably further south than the Rio Grande Valley, so it’s not necessarily geographically appropriate. Perhaps more convincingly, there has been considerable debate about whether it’s appropriate to use the names of indigineous people for sports mascots. That’s not an argument that holds as much water, of course, when you’re talking about using a name like “Aztecs” to represent the student body in a region that’s 93% Latino, but it’s still something to at least consider before making the decision.
Pros: Like the Aztecs, the Barracudas is regionally appropriate, in that the Valley butts up against the Gulf of Mexico, and the fearsome fish appears in those waters. It’s also rare (though not unheard of) for sports teams to name themselves after fish, so there’s some novelty to the Barracudas. Plus, lots of opportunities to play “Barracuda” by Heart during games!
Cons: The barracuda is a tough-guy fish, but it’s still a fish. People eat them. It’s hard to intimidate your opponents when they can suggest having barracuda for dinner, and someone who hears it might say, “Hm, that actually sounds pretty good.” The royalties to Nancy and Ann Wilson would probably add up, too.
Pros: Bears! They’re fierce animals who intimidate people!
Cons: This is the laziest mascot you can come up with. “Bears”? There are lots of teams called “Bears.” Baylor already has them. It’s way too general—there are eight different species of bears, so this just looks like you couldn’t make up your mind and pick one. (“Black Bears” wouldn’t be a whole lot better, but at least there’s been a black bear on the loose in Starr County this summer.) Naming the mascot the UT-RGV Bears is like saying, “I dunno, do we have to have a mascot?” Have some self-respect, y’all.
Pros: Like barracudas, but even more intimidating, the UT-RGV Sharks are a regionally appropriate name for a school near the water, and the logo possibilities here are good (open-mouthed or closed?). Local headliner writers would probably be psyched to be able to write things like, “UT-RGV drops a Sharknado on A&M Kingsville’s basketball team!” way after Sharknado references are embarrassingly dated (i.e., now), which would strengthen ties to the local media.
Cons: “Sharks” isn’t as lazy as “Bears,” but that’s probably the nicest thing there is to say about it. You’re essentially locked into an aquamarine color scheme, you’re setting yourself up for a ton of Shark Week jokes, you’re once again non-specific, and you don’t even get a jam like “Barracuda” to make it all worthwhile. UT-RGV students deserve better.
Pros: So there’s some specificity here. “Sharks” and “Bears” are boring, but “Bull Snakes”—that has some character! They’re once again a mascot with regional ties, and there aren’t a ton of snake-named mascots out there.
Cons: The “Bull Snakes” might be better than the “Sharks” and the “Bears,” but that doesn’t make it a good name: you’re talking about a slow-moving, non-threatening snake that frequently ends up as roadkill. In fact, bull snakes are most commonly known (if they’re known at all) for being all threatening-noises, no actual venom. The UT-RGV student body and athletics teams should not be represented by a mascot that’s all bluster, no bite.
Pros: Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s a common misconception that mascots need to be menacing animals, when they really just need to be distinctive, respectable ones. Tortoises live long, interesting lives; they are perfectly suited to the environment in which they live; they don’t just survive, they thrive. Any UT-RGV student should be proud to call him- or herself a Tortoise.
Cons: After the drought of solid names between “Barracudas” and “Tortoises,” it’s easy to overrate this one. The UT-RGV Tortoises carry some risks of mispronunciation and misspellings, and while it’s a perfectly respectable choice, it’s hard to think of it is as an exciting one.
Pros: Here’s a bold choice. The singular “Phoenix” is certainly a contemporary way to name your team: the naming convention really only became trendy in the mid-80’s, and still occasionally gets called into play today (Oklahoma City Thunder, anybody?), and it’d certainly mark UT-RGV as different in a state where most mascots are Longhorns, Bears, Aggies, etc. It’s also thematically fascinating, as UT-RGV rises from the ashes of UTB and UTPA to become something that can fly high on its own. Compelling stuff.
Cons: We’re going to assume that the only reason “Phoenix” is singular is because “Phoenixes” sounds and looks weird, and no one knows the plural form “Phoenices.” Otherwise, it doesn’t make much sense—”Thunder,” “Magic,” “Heat,” “Jazz,” etc, are all collective nouns, which is why there’s no “S” at the end. The word “phoenix” does have a plural form, they’re just choosing not to utilize it even though it refers to a group. This is an interesting choice, and they’re looking in some unique places, but it just doesn’t make sense.
Pros: It’s on now! “Red Wolves” is a terrific name: It’s a Texas animal that is both specific and tough-sounding. Whatever color scheme is suggested by the name really only needs to include red, and that is an easy one to work with. If UT-RGV Red Wolves fever ever overtook the student body during a sporting event, fans could literally start howling to show their support. What’s not to like here?
Cons: About the only reason to oppose Red Wolves is that, while it’s a Texas animal, it’s one that is not native to the Rio Grande Valley, even in the heyday of the now-threatened species. It’s a great name, but it might be a better name for a school in East Texas than in the Valley.
Pros: Foxes has some real potential for a mascot. It’s broad, like “Bears” and “Sharks,” but unlike those taxonomies, it’s an animal that rarely gets used for mascotting purposes, so it’s got a lot of novelty. And most of the associations that come with “Foxes” are good: they’re crafty, they’re cute, they’re dog-like without being dogs. If you call a person a “fox,” you’re saying that they’re attractive. Hard not to like the idea of the UT-RGV Attractive People!
Cons: Like the Tortoises, the only real downside to “Foxes” as a mascot is that it’s not too exciting—it’s more like the sort of mascot you come up with because you have to come up with a mascot, and most of the great names have already been taken. It doesn’t tell you much about the culture of the school, the students, or the athletes that it represents. It’s just a name.
Pros: The state bird of Texas deserves a shout-out, and the UT-RGV Mockingbirds would be a great place for it to get one. “Mockingbirds” does everything that the other animal mascot names here do well, but it does it better. It’s a unique, specific name with regional ties that stands out. It’s a noble, if small, creature that nobody eats for fun. It’s not anybody else’s mascot, yet when you hear it, you immediately think “that would be a good mascot name.” The word itself looks good—no awkward X’s or unconventional vowel sounds. It’s really hard not to like this one.
Cons: There’s like a 10% chance that “Mockingbirds” made the list because “Mockingjays” is unavailable—people really do love those Hunger Games. That’s not a big deal, but we should at least acknowledge it. Otherwise, this is a perfect name: More striking than “Tortoises” and “Foxes,” more regionally and culturally appropriate than “Red Wolves,” more charismatic than “Bull Snakes” and “Barracudas,” more unique than “Bears” or “Sharks.” Really not much to dislike about the UT-RGV Mockingbirds.
There’s no firm date on when the mascot will be selected, but if there’s a further winnowing-down process, it’s pretty easy to tell which names deserve to make the final round-up: Aztecs, Red Wolves, and Mockingbirds. There are a few bold ideas here worth considering that aren’t quite ready for the big stage, and then only a handful of true duds. Great work, UT-RGV—let’s see what you settle on.