Erick Fernandez
Thursday April 2nd, 2015

​​The NCAA tournament is down to the Final Four (Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State, Wisconsin) and as well known as these teams are for their basketball programs, they also all have rich mascot histories.

The Blue Devil. The Wildcat. Sparty. Bucky Badger.

How did these schools decide on their team nicknames and how did they get the inspiration for their current mascot costumes? Let's take a look.


The Blue Devils name was more adapted than outright selected by the school's administrators. As Duke's library notes, the then-The Trinity Chronicle (now named The Chronicle) student newspaper began referring to the athletic teams as the Blue Devils in October 1922. The nickname was inspired by the Chasseurs Alpins​ French infantry of soldiers during World War I. That infantry was given the nickname "les Diables Bleus," French for the Blue Devils.

The student newspaper continued to use that nickname, and according to Duke, the name eventually caught on.

Duke began having costumed mascots a little less than a decade after. According to The Chronicle, the school mascot's made its debut in October 1929. 

Through the years the costume eventually evolved from a "jumpsuit in the 1930s to a cape and Batman-style mask in the 1970s," the university says. The university has since modernized the Blue Devil look in the past 10 years.


Kentucky became associated with the Wildcats nickname back in the early 20th century. The university details how that happened back in 1909: 

Commandant Carbusier, then head of the military department at old State University, told a group of students in a chapel service following the game that the Kentucky football team had "fought like Wildcats."

The university picked up the names for its athletic teams soon after.

Almost seven decades passed before Kentucky eventually adopted a costumed mascot, The Wildcat in the '76-77 school year.

Kentucky has added two more mascots since then. Scratch is the "more child-friendly mascot" per UK Athletics and Blue is a live bobcat in a nearby Wildlife center, but he won't ever be at the games.

Michigan State

Like Duke, Michigan State's team name also was also adapted by a journalist and then accepted by the school. According to Michigan State athletics, they were "Aggies" before a 1925 contest selected the nickname, "The Michigan Staters." The athletics department says that the sports editor of the Lansing State Journal, George Alderton, believed that name "was too cumbersome for newspaper writing," so he went through other entries from the school's contest.

After coming across an entry that suggested the Spartans nickname, Alderton began inserting that new moniker in his articles and eventually in headlines. The Spartans caught on with the school and athletics department, and by 1926, the school took on the nickname.

The earliest versions of Sparty costumes were huge, papier-mache heads with Spartan helmets in the mid-1950s. Although other interpretations of Sparty surfaced over the next few decades, but Michigan State didn't have an official mascot costume until 1989. That full-body costumed featured Sparty with an extremely muscular frame, full-body armor and a Spartan helmet. 

Michigan State officials say the current cost of Sparty's costume is $12,000.


The Badger has been the official mascot for the university since 1889, according to UW Athletics. The university decided to keep the mascot relevant with Wisconsin, which is, after all, The Badger State.

After having a live badger mascot for some time, Wisconsin decided to err on the side of caution and go a different route.

In 1949, the Badgers' initial mascot costume was similar to that of Michigan St., a big papier-mache head.

A contest was later held to determine the mascot's name and Buckingham U. Badger ended up being the winner. The mascot has maintained that same name, but is more widely known as Bucky.

The costume went through modifications from just the papier-mache head to the full on costume after some time. 

The mascot has become so popular that the school says it needs seven students to "meet all the various requests for Bucky Badger appearances." Even a documentary was made about the Bucky mascot experience.

With the tournament down to its final four teams, the battle on the court will determine the champion, and one of these historic mascots will be right in the middle of the celebration. 

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.