Reader, two years ago, we finally found ourselves caught up in this thing you crazy sports fans call “March Madness.” As we wrote at the time, neither of us has ever been much of a basketball fan, but…well, we really don’t like being left out. Plus, the intricacies of devising intensely thought-out rankings of teams to culminate in a series of head-to-head battles visually represented by brackets appeals to our collective meticulous aesthetic nature.
So we found a way to involve ourselves. True, we may not know much about basketball or any of the teams involved or even how commentators can discuss things like ball-handling or penetrating moves without giggling, but we do know logos. So we devised our own bracket system based solely on the strength of each team’s visual communication. No stats, no historical context, no information on the team’s ranking or how they did last year, just their logo + branding. Does that logo make me feel threatened in terms of my athletic prowess/life? Or does it make me wonder if that bear cub just needs a hug? Are those colors both striking and appealing? Or do they remind us of the seafoam + coral backdrop at our “Under the Sea” themed prom? Why, exactly, did that college chose to incorporate a cowboy version of Burt Reynolds into their logo?
These are the questions we weighed heavily, Reader; the result—our Logo March Madness, a war of visual branding. In most cases, simplicity wins over complexity, as it usually does in the branding world outside of sports. And—for our money—we like a more serious look as opposed to, say, something that looks like it came straight out of a 1960s cartoon. And in general, we don’t like a straight letter-based acronym void of any real world visuals or illustrations unless they strike that rare delicate balance between elegance and uniqueness. We’ll take a well-done snarling animal any day over that snooze-fest. I mean, these are sports logos after all.
A few oddities should be noted though. For instance, why was the NC A&T dog rendered in such a bizarrely muscly, He-Man-like fashion? And was he holding a protest sign or something that he dropped right before…posing for that?
Also, the New Mexico Aggies really do look like they straight up dropped a picture of cowboy-Burt Reynolds into their logo. Though discussion on that front in the studio quickly spiraled into the age-old argument on the likeness of Burt Reynolds to Tom Selleck and vice versa, which I personally consider an affront to Mr. Selleck. Turns out there’s a quiz for that though.
Then there’s the team pitted against Mr. Reynolds/Selleck—the St. Louis University Billikens, pictured above (creepy dream imp). What’s a Billiken, you ask? Turns out, it’s a strange little chubby elf first seen by a St. Louis art teacher and illustrator, Florence Pretz in a dream. Ms. Pretz patented the design of the Billiken in 1908—because that’s what you do when mysterious figures visit you in your dreams—and the university followed suit by adopting the imp as their official logo, again, because that’s what you do. Graphically designing is not an easy task. It takes a whole lot of imagination. So that one made it a little further than it would have on looks alone just because that’s quite a story, and we like a strong story in a brand. Plus you’ve gotta give it to St. Louis U. for supporting such an odd idea.
Saint Mary’s won out with their well-wrought acronym that pulled in a nice older look with their red Gaels crest. Plus, what is up with that seemingly sad, arthritic tiger on Memphis’ logo? As Katie put it, “It looks like he’s about to eat a big bucket of popcorn.”
Though we liked the Cincinnati Bearcats name, Duke eventually unseated them due to their consistency in branding and the nice modularity in their logo, sometimes appearing with a D only, sometimes with the D and the blue devil. The smarmy look on the blue devil’s face and molester-ish goatee were his eventual undoing though.
And we like the story behind the Wichita State Shockers, who, evidently get their name from the fact that early students earned money by harvesting wheat—or shocking—in nearby fields. The resulting logo + mascot—WuShock—looks a little too crazy though, like your methed-out cousin who keeps asking for money for “food”, so GU’s sturdy bulldog unseated him in the end.
Though we like the Games-of-Thrones-ness of the New Mexico Lobos’ logo, Harvard’s stately logo for the Crimsons was pretty hard to beat, but eventually fell to more sports-appropriate looks.
And the Acron Zips, with their sleek kangaroo, appealed to us both and made it pretty far only to be taken down at the last minute by the San Diego’s elegant, classically athletic logo for the Aztecs.
With our alma mater though—the James Madison Duke Dogs, who, honestly, we’re very excited about having made it so far for the first time in thirty years—things were not so cut and dry. Honestly, I think it’s a terrible logo, but it’s difficult for us to truly remove ourselves from emotions here, especially given the fact that JMU is where we both met. But seriously—a bulldog dressed up as a duke, with a fuzzy purple cape + crown? It’s hard to argue quality on that front. …or is it so bad it’s good, making the trip full-circle? Regardless, we’re sad they didn’t make it further. But come on.
In the end, it came down to a cat-and-dog fight, bringing the dangerous-looking tiger of Missouri head-to-head with Butler’s bulldog (yes—there are a lot of bulldogs in this thing).
You can see the full progression below. We can’t say these will match up with real-world results on the court, but we can say, with great certainty…some of you all have some seriously cracked-out logos.
We’re looking at you, red leprechaun. We’re looking at you.