March Madness is in full swing as the NCAA takes over US airwaves with The Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four — all sorts of alliterative words that have become part of our everyday lexicon, even if you don’t watch college basketball.
It’s no secret that branding is a huge part of American university sports and campus life – especially during tournaments like this one. All kinds of college merchandise is for sale year-round, and you can often rate “school spirit” by how much students and alumni rep the brand. But how do these schools build such iconic and loyal brands?
While universities often choose from a limited list of colors, slab serif fonts and mascots (Wildcats, anyone?), they manage to distinguish themselves amongst the competition. How? With carefully constructed wordmarks and eye-catching mascots that fans can’t get enough of.
Check out the logos from the 2015 NCAA Sweet Sixteen and vote for your favorite brand below:
1. Kentucky Wildcats
- Location: Lexington, KY
- Conference: Southeastern Conference (SEC)
- Colors: Royal Blue and White
- Nickname: The Wildcat — After game in 1909, the football team was said to have “fought like Wildcats,” and the name stuck
The University of Kentucky, like many others on this list, keeps it simple with that classic collegiate lettering. Their spin is adding the vintage double-outline of white and blue, and playing with the way the layers look as they overlap the lettering. Our only question with this one is how it appears squashed down, whereas it looks a bit more balanced in the school’s older logo, displayed below.
2. Duke Blue Devils
- Location: Durham, NC
- Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)
- Colors: Duke Blue and White
- Mascot: The Blue Devils — In French “Les Diables Bleus,” in reference to the French Alpine light infantry battalion in WWI
Something about the Duke Blue Devil has always been a bit eerie — we’re pretty sure it’s that 1920’s cartoon eye. But maybe that’s appropriate, given that the logo is a Devil. It’s not supposed to look nice, it’s supposed to be intimidating. Duke has a unique thing going on and the logo’s been that way since 1978.
3. Wisconsin Badgers
- Location: Madison, WI
- Conference: Big 10
- Colors: Cardinal and White
- Mascot: Bucky the Badger — Wisconsin is known as the Badger State, a nickname appropriated by the University in 1889
Wisconsin makes their logotype unique by tweaking a fairly classic slab serif. The lines curve so it almost looks like a sticker that someone’s put on a car window to rep the school. It helps that they have that bold color — it’s hard not to notice that dense red.
4. Gonzaga Bulldogs
- Location: Spokane, WA
- Conference: West Coast Conference (WCC)
- Colors: Blue, Red, and White
- Nickname: The bulldogs, known unofficially as the “Zags”
Here we have the first one on our list to using the full university name in the primary logo (most of these schools use alternate logos for various branding exercises). Gonzaga’s logo may not scale quite as well given it’s intricacy, but it certainly stands out, with the depiction of a seriously fierce bulldog.
5. Arizona Wildcats
- Location: Tuscon, AZ
- Conference: Pac 12
- Colors: Cardinal and Navy
- Mascot: Wilbur and Wilma are the mascots, two wildcats dressed up to honor the old west heritage of the school
Arizona also goes for the letterform, but their take involves a more subtle serif font bordered by a thick and dominant slab serif. Look at those razor-sharp points of the “A,” just barely intersecting at key points with the blue outline. They look a bit like a wildcat’s tooth, if you ask us.
6. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
- Location: South Bend, Indiana
- Conference: ACC
- Colors: Navy Blue, Gold, Kelly Green
- Nickname: The Fighting Irish, the origin of which is highly debated — read this article for theories
A rather elegant take on the college logo, we’re big fans of the simple single-colored, rounded-edge look. And we like how the width of the D is played off of the height of the N to maintain balance. It’s nice to see this in contrast with the rather detailed and intense Leprechaun mascot.
7. Oklahoma Sooners
- Location: Norman, OK
- Conference: Big 12
- Colors: Crimson and Cream
- Mascot: The Sooner Schooner is a scale-model Conestoga Wagon driven by two white horses — Boomer and Sooner. And in case you were wondering, Sooners are those who snuck into the Oklahoma territories early during the settlement days of the 1800s.
OU gets to play with a lot of vowels and a lot of curves, which they do by not using any curves at all. The straightforward single-colored logo interlocks the two letters, maintaining a sleek and vertical balance.
8. North Carolina Tar Heels
- Location: Chapel Hill, NC
- Conference: ACC
- Colors: Carolina Blue and White
- Nickname: Tar Heels are named after “The Tar Heel State,” which gained popularity due to North Carolina’s exports during the Civil War
There’s a big focus on that famous Carolina Blue. Just like not-s0-friendly rival Duke, Carolina is pretty passionate about their representative color. It’s the dominant characteristic of their smoothly designed and surprisingly sans-serifed logo. We don’t know about you guys, but this one actually reminds us of a lot of professional baseball logos in the US.
9. Louisville Cardinals
- Location: Louisville, KY
- Conference: ACC
- Colors: Red and Black
- Mascot: The Cardinal Bird, selected as it’s the Official Bird of Kentucky
Way to go Louisville Cardinals! Somehow, they actually made a songbird look fierce — what a grimace. This is the only team on here whose primary logo doesn’t include any letters. Instead, it incorporates a simply designed mascot with just enough detail to keep it interesting (Those teeth! We’re pretty sure birds don’t have teeth).
10. The Utah Utes
- Location: Salt Lake City, UT
- Conference: Pac-12
- Colors: University Red and Black
- Mascot: Utah’s mascot is Swoop, the Red-Tailed Hawk — brought on in 1996
One of the more playful logos on this list, Utah plays off the imagery of their nickname. Because of the controversy surrounding athletic teams using Native American symbols as representation, Utah actually has permission from the tribe in question, the Utes. So while the implementation may be a little rough, the concept is good-to-go.
11. West Virginia Mountaineers
- Location: Morgantown, WV
- Conference: Big 12
- Colors: Old Gold and Blue
- Mascot: The Mountaineer is actually a student selected from the student body every year, made the part by dressing up in buckskins and a coonskin cap, carrying a rifle.
West Virginia definitely manages an overall different look for their logotype, using a less traditional font more associated with the ’70s than early 1890-1920s university style. But it works, with it’s smoothly interlocking letters pumped up by the combination of gold and blue.
12. Xavier Muskateers
- Location: Cincinatti, OH
- Conference: Big East
- Colors: Navy and White
- Mascot: The Muskateer, with a sidekick called the Blue Blob
Xavier (like Arizona) goes for aggressively pointed edges, which there are a lot of given the serif letter X. Straightforward and simple, the outline provides a little more oomph to this X-marks-the-spot. Make sure to also take a look at the illustration of the musketeer mascot below, because that’s definitely one of the more interesting uses of light and dark in the bunch.
13. Michigan State Spartans
- Location: East Lansing, MI
- Conference: Big Ten
- Colors: Green and White
- Mascot: Sparty the Spartan, originating in 1925
This is the most straight-up, simple logo of the bunch. It’s a bit like Oklahoma, but a single letter instead. The curves translate into the straight lines, relying on that bold green to make a statement. It’s definitely a contrast to the detailed design of their famous cleft-chin, Sparty.
14.Wichita State Shockers
- Location: Wichita, KS
- Conference: Missouri Valley Conference
- Colors: Black and Sunflower Yellow
- Nickname: Shockers, referring to shocking wheat in the golden fields of Kansas
The ’70s strike again, this time with a classically etched head of wheat atop a curvy lowercase monogram. The font is clearly derived from their original, more traditional University font, giving it a little more character. Overall, this logo is balances the main black and the gold border, giving it one of the more unique looks in the bunch.
15. N.C. State Wolfpack
- Location: Raleigh, NC
- Conference: ACC
- Colors: Red, Black, and White
- Mascot: The Wolfpack, from a comment made way back in 1921 that the team was as “unruly as a pack of wolves”
We’ve got some embedding going on! Again we have a font style that we’ve encountered a couple of times before — our curve-free sans-serif. But this time a little baby “NC” is layered into the “S”. While it’s good to see someone trying something a little out-of-the-box, we’re not sure this translates too well. Perhaps if there weren’t quite so many outlines going on, this concept might work a little better.
16. UCLA Bruins
- Location: Los Angeles, CA
- Conference: Pac 12
- Colors: True Blue and Gold
- Nickname: The Bruins, as UCLA used to bring out live bears to the games (well, the football games at least)
Last but not least, we have UCLA showing us another classic college typeface — that thick cursive script with an underline. And as an added bonus, printing the Bruins nickname on that underline is reminiscent of one of those classic college banners waving around at events. This is definitely a sporting one.
Which one is your favorite? Vote below:
And there you have it! All sweet sixteen teams from this year’s March Madness!
*All logos, unless otherwise indicated, are sourced from sportslogos.net