What’s In A College Name? Plenty

It’s college baseball season again, which means it’s time for the annual wave of college marketers gone wild.

Inevitably, a few of our nation’s august institutions of higher learning decide every year that the name on the stone wall that marks the entrance to their campuses just won’t do any longer. The go-go world of the 21st century demands a shorter, hipper moniker, one with lots of letters that no one outside the campus zip code can understand.

Texas Christian? Just call us TCU, please. New York Tech? We’re NYIT, thanks. Long Island? Too wordy. We’re going to go with LIU-Brooklyn.

Let me just say that I don’t begrudge any university the right to choose whatever marketing scheme it likes in order to sell itself. I think most of them are stupid, but what else are they going to spend that ever-escalating tuition money on?

Just don’t ask us to be part of your sales team.

Rules Of Style

First, let’s go over our rules for how we refer to colleges and universities. I’m not sure how many readers are aware of this (or care), but Baseball America and most other publications have a style guide that provides uniformity to the language we use on our pages and Website.

We do this for the same reason that everyone follows rules of grammar: to provide a consistent language that allows us to communicate clearly with one another. We also do it because a consistent, uniform style makes you feel better as a reader. When you see that we refer to a “righthander” by that term every time, and not sometimes by “right hander” and other times by “right-hander” it lends to our credibility as a reliable source of information. It’s very basic, but you have to get the basics right to prove to people that you can get the other stuff right as well.

So of course we’re first governed by the basic rules of grammar. Then we go with the Associated Press Stylebook.

Baseball America’s style guide goes a step further into areas that we write about frequently that other publications do not. In addition to the “righthander” example, it covers things like always referring to the person in charge of the minor leagues for an organization as “farm director,” rather than vice president for player development or whatever other titles organizations come up with in their particular structure. As I have been the main developer of the BA style guide in recent years, it also includes some of my own particular grammar idiosyncrasies, such as my hatred of “legendary” or “literally.”

In case you can’t tell, this stuff matters to us. And not just because we want to be cute about it, but because we want to communicate with a national baseball audience as clearly as we can.

Crystal Clarity

Which brings us, at long last, to our rules for colleges. The basic rule is that any Division I school is referred to by its formal name, minus the word “University” unless needed for clarity—if we write about the University of Miami and the Miami Marlins in the same story, for example—on first reference.

“First reference” just means the first time we mention the school in a story. After that, the rules are more liberal, as writers can use abbreviations, nicknames or other shorthand monikers for the school, just as we use a person’s full name on first reference and their last name on subsequent references.

Pretty simple, right? Well, there are always exceptions and complications. The first comes from schools that want to be referred to by acronyms rather than words: TCU, UAB, UNLV, UCF, and on and on. We think it’s clearer to refer to the school’s full name on first reference. It may be hard for people in these places to believe, but not everyone instantly recognizes those acronyms. As mentioned before, the abbreviation is fine for subsequent references.

The only exception to this rule is University of California system, headlined by UCLA, which is universally recognized by that name. That’s what our rules come down to: What is the clearest way to communicate to you the reader what we’re talking about? Playing off that we have UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Riverside and UC Santa Barbara. The flagship institution in Berkeley is just called California on first reference, again because that’s what’s familiar to people.

The California State university system presents its own set of challenges, with most schools known as Cal State (your city here), but exceptions like Long Beach State sneaking in. We were presented with a new challenge this offseason, as Cal State Bakersfield decided it would like to be called CSU Bakersfield. We’ll take it under advisement, Roadrunners, but don’t hold your breath.

CSUB is part of a growing number of schools coming up with new monikers out of left field, I suppose in an effort to get more attention. If a school has the courage of its convictions, such as Memphis State actually changing its school name to the University of Memphis, we’re with you. If you’re just trying to come up with a hip new way for people to see you, move along.

And that’s the final point I’d like to make: While I’m happy you have found a way to better market your school, that doesn’t make us beholden to your decision. We decide how we want to refer to the institutions that appear on our pages, and as I think I’ve demonstrated, we take it pretty seriously. Just as it’s the Washington Redskins’ right to have an offensive nickname, it’s the right of various newspapers (most notably the Kansas City Star) to choose not to print that nickname.

We’re talking about less weighty decisions, but we take them just as seriously. When we refer to Texas Christian and Louisiana State and Nevada-Las Vegas, it’s because that’s what we think is clearest for our readers. And because I said so.