After 53 years of proudly being called the Colonials, my alma mater, Binghamton University, recently rated by Der Spiegel as one of the "better schools" in south-central New York state (motto: "We're Only 207 Road Miles From Yale"), has decided to change the nickname of its athletic teams.
No, this wasn't some political-correctness fix. Colonials isn't a hideously embarrassing racial slur, like, say, Redskins--if there could possibly be somebody insensitive enough to use that as a name for a sports team. Colonials is a benign term, meaning either "a member or inhabitant of a colony" or, as I've just learned, those pathetic buckle shoes nobody has worn since the time of the Pilgrims, with the possible exception of Elton John.
(Jeez. All this time we were named after shoes? Whose idea was that, Judy Garland's?)
Binghamton decided to dump "Colonials" for a much more practical reason: "Colonials" wasn't moving T-shirts. End of discussion.
Name changes are nothing new to my school, which was originally Triple Cities College and then--when I went there--Harpur College. When people asked me where I went to school, I would say "Harpur" very fast and deliberately slur the pronunciation to see if I could fool some dopes into thinking I went to "Harvard."
Later, it became SUNY--Binghamton. Now it's simply Binghamton U. In a few years, it'll probably be a Starbucks. (I took my daughter up there a few years ago, showed her the familiar red brick neo-penal architecture, and she said, "Daddy, it looks like a drug rehabilitation center." I smiled and told her, "Sweetie, you don't know how close you are.")
I have to laugh when I think back to the athletic teams we had when I was in school. We were not a jock school. There was no football team. The center on our basketball team was only 6 feet 2; he had a terrific view of the opposing center's armpits. After his junior year, he left to join the circus! Everything you need to know about the state of Harpur College athletics is embodied in the name of one of the school's legendary stars: Jack "The Shot" Levine.
We never won anything. It wasn't just that your guys could beat our guys; your girls could beat our guys. The piccolo section of your band could beat our guys.
Along with a new nickname, Binghamton wants a mascot, too. When I was at Harpur, we never actually had a mascot the students could relate to--I'd have suggested a cuddly stuffed animal who sat immobilized for five hours playing the first side of the "Moby Grape" album and babbling about how if you cut open a Cheez Doodle, the colors were really far out.
It's okay with me if they want to change "Colonials" to something else, but I must express my outrage at how the new nickname was arrived at.
A marketing company was hired to prepare a list of 30 names. I quote from the alumni newsletter: "The following qualities were considered in selecting the name: gender-neutral, non-offensive, powerful, aggressive, dignified and marketable."
(So I guess "Big Hairy Chicks on Crack" had no chance.)
What kind of nickname can you get from that commercialized, politically correct crap?
I asked my friends at work to brainstorm a name using those guidelines. Here's what they came up with:
The Binghamton Empowered Persons.
The Binghamton Bada-Bing!
The Bolivian Swarming River Rats.
The Golden Geldings.
The Binghamton Crosbys.
The Fighting Beiges.
The (Name of Your Corporation Here).
The Binghamton Bacilli.
The Fighting Hasidim.
And my personal favorite: The Swiss.
But for some reason, Binghamton picked Bearcats.
There's no such thing as a bearcat. It's a mythical animal. A fraud.
My friend Tammy, who has two cats, points out quite correctly: "Of course, it is mythical. I am absolutely, positively certain my cats would never, ever, like, do it with a bear."
(Tammy also asks, "Why aren't there beardogs?" But that is a question for another day--and possibly another galaxy.)
The alumni journal praises the choice of Bearcat: "A cross between the power and ferocity of a bear, and the cunning and quickness of a cat."
Well, if what you want is power and ferocity, and cunning and quickness, why not choose a nickname like "Psychotics With Chain Saws"? You think that's not marketable? That's got big-time "WWF Smackdown!" potential!
The University of Cincinnati has been the Bearcats for 100 years. And Cincinnati is a good athletic school. Its basketball team is No. 1 in the country now. Everyone will assume that Binghamton stole the nickname from Cincinnati. And, let's face it, stealing from Cincinnati is about as desperate as it gets. I mean, what a dump. If Binghamton is the way your foot smells, Cincinnati is the way your foot tastes.
If you're going to steal somebody's nickname, steal something with power and majesty. Call yourselves: the New York Yankees.
(The Smelt is looking better, isn't it?)
Not only isn't "Bearcats" original, but the logo they picked is almost exactly the same as that of the NHL's Florida Panthers. So we've got a phony-baloney animal and a rip-off logo. It's all schmutz.
As an alumnus in good standing (well, okay, an alumnus still standing), I am herewith ripping up the $50,000 check I had just written to the Binghamton Alumni Association.
And they can forget about a major donation until they come up with a nickname that stands for something. Something that says it all. How about the Binghamton Balding Kornhuskers!