Nevada, UNR, Nevada-Reno; Whatever, lets beat them all.

I like the way Idaho has named its institutions of higher learning.  There are four four-year colleges or universities, and each has a unique name.  The one in Moscow is called the University of Idaho.  The one in Pocatello is called Idaho State University.  The one in Boise is called Boise State University.  And the one in Lewiston is called Lewis-Clark State College.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s easy to remember the names of all of Idaho’s state colleges and universities.  But that may be because I’m a native of Idaho, or because I’m looking at them mainly from a sports fan’s point of view.  In the sports pages, you’ll generally find the names to be slightly abbreviated, like Idaho, Idaho State, Boise State and Lewis-Clark State.  Or they’ll be completely abbreviated, as U of I, ISU, BSU and LCSC.  It still seems simple.

About twenty years ago, the board of directors of the College of Idaho, which is a private school in Caldwell, decided there was too much confusion.  They said people were always getting the College of Idaho mixed up with the University of Idaho and the College of Southern Idaho, which is a junior college in Twin Falls.  And I believe that some people were, but they were the sorts of people who also get Idaho mixed up with Iowa.  In my mind, you can’t ever make things simple enough for people like that.  A friend of mine graduated from the University of Iowa, which is located in Iowa City, Iowa.  He never bought one, but he told me the bookstore at the university had sweatshirts that read, “University of Iowa, Idaho City, Ohio”.  That’s the sort of humor designed to make fun of idiots, and nobody in the world likes to make fun of idiots more than college students.

Anyway, despite the fact that the College of Idaho had been in existence for about 100 years, the board of directors decided to use something from the school’s bylaws which said the college’s name could be changed at any time to the name of a donor who had given a certain large sum of money.  I’m not sure what the sum was, but it was clear that Joe Albertson, the founder of Albertson’s grocery stores, had given a lot more than that over the years.  J.R. Simplot and the family of Harry Morrison, one of the founders of the Morrison-Knudsen engineering company, had given quite a bit, too, but apparently Joe Albertson had given the most.  So the board voted to change the name of the College of Idaho to Albertson College.  And they did it in the least radical way possible.  The new official name would be Albertson College of Idaho.

My parents both graduated from the College of Idaho, and they didn’t care for the name change.  Most other graduates and perpetual donors didn’t care for it, either, and according to Marty Holly, the athletic director at the time, donations to the college began to shrink.  Some graduates, in fact, said straight out that they wouldn’t give another cent unless the name was changed back to the College of Idaho.

If the reason for the name change was actually to clear up confusion, it didn’t work.  Instead, it made people mix up the college with the grocery store.  Rather than call it Albertson College, tons of people referred to it as Albertson’s College.  By the way, I’m actually spelling Albertson’s incorrectly.  The store was originally called Albertson’s when it was founded in Boise in the 1930’s, but at some point they dropped the apostrophe.  If you look at the front of any of their stores today, you’ll notice the sign says “Albertsons”.  One of those stores was right across the street from Albertson College.

Fifteen years or so went by, and the board of directors voted to change the name of the school back to the College of Idaho.  Shortly thereafter, for the first time ever, the naming rights to the Boise State University football stadium were purchased, and Bronco Stadium was renamed Albertsons Stadium.  This probably would have caused some confusion, since it coincided with the College of Idaho bringing back its football team after forty years.  It didn’t, though, because they had already dropped the name Albertson.  Also, the College of Idaho Coyotes play in Simplot Stadium.

Every state has state institutions of higher learning.  California has a system which they pretend is two different systems.  They have a number of schools called the University of California, and they have others called California State.  There are Universities of California at Berkeley, San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Davis, Irvine, and several other cities.  And there are California States in cities like Bakersfield, San Diego, Fullerton, Dominguez Hills and Fresno.  Most of the schools have sports teams, and for whatever reason, each one decides on its own what it wants to be called in the sports pages.  That’s why you’ll see scores from Cal State-Bakersfield and Cal State-Fullerton, but also from Fresno State and San Diego State.  The ones calling themselves the University of California generally are known as “UC” something.  There’s UC-Davis, UC-San Diego and UC-Irvine, and the always-abbreviated UCLA and UCSB.  For some reason, the one in Berkeley gets to call itself just California or sometimes Cal.  And graduates often refer to it just as Berkeley.

Idaho could do that, but we don’t.  There could be four locations of the University of Idaho, known as Idaho-Moscow, Idaho-Pocatello, Idaho-Boise and Idaho-Lewiston.  Because essentially that’s what they are.  We just don’t do it that way.  Nevada does it that way, but they only have two locations, Las Vegas and Reno.  And the two locations don’t like each other.  The University of Nevada at Las Vegas has forever been known as Nevada-Las Vegas, or for short, UNLV.  They’re a well-known school because their basketball team once won the NCAA championship under coach Jerry Tarkanian.  When I started at Boise State in 1983, the other University of Nevada was very commonly called Nevada-Reno and less often UNR.  But one day, long after I had graduated from college and was working in a radio station newsroom, we got a formal letter from the University of Nevada at Reno informing us, and everyone else, that from now on they would like to be called Nevada.  No more Reno.  Immediately their sports uniforms stopped saying “UNR” and began saying “Nevada”.  In the sports pages, you could read that UNLV beat New Mexico State, while Boise State beat Nevada.

This was not a problem anywhere, with just one exception.  They didn’t like it in Las Vegas.  They still don’t.  Any publication or website produced by UNLV still refers to Nevada as either Nevada-Reno or UNR.  When the two teams play each other in any sport in Las Vegas, the scoreboard says “UNLV” and “UNR”, but never just Nevada.  In Reno, it usually says “Wolfpack” and “Rebels”.  California doesn’t seem to have that problem.  Only two of their state institutions are in the Pacific 12 Conference, Cal and UCLA, and nobody mixes up the two, despite the fact that both schools’ colors are blue and yellow (albeit different shades of blue) and their mascots, respectively, are the Golden Bears and the Bruins, which are pretty much identical.

The state of Louisiana has a system similar to Nevada’s.  At one time their state institutions were known as LSU, Northwestern State (Louisiana), Southwestern Louisiana, Southeastern Louisiana and Northeastern Louisiana.  LSU is still LSU, and very few people call it Louisiana State.  Northwestern State (Louisiana) still goes by that extremely awkward name, mostly to distinguish themselves from Northwestern University in Illinois, which was named at a time when Chicago actually represented the most northwestern part of the United States.  Northwestern State’s biggest problem is that it’s sometimes written as “Northwestern State (La)”, which leads the aforementioned idiots to believe it’s located in Los Angeles.  And Southeastern Louisiana is still content to call itself Southeastern Louisiana.  But a decade or so ago, Southwestern Louisiana decided to start calling itself Louisiana-Lafayette and Northeastern Louisiana decided to start calling itself Louisiana-Monroe.  And that didn’t seem to cause any problems until about three years ago, when Louisiana-Lafayette sent out a very Nevada-like notice informing everyone that they would hereafter like to be called just Louisiana.  In their case, Louisiana-Monroe didn’t like it at all, similar to UNLV, and most people just ignored it and kept on calling it Louisiana-Lafayette.

Wisconsin is the only state that has a tradition of rigidly calling all of its institutions the University of Wisconsin.  There’s Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Wisconsin-Green Bay and several others, and the one located in the capital city, Madison, goes formally by Wisconsin-Madison and informally by just Wisconsin. However, even they are experiencing changes.  Recently, the basketball teams of Wisconsin-Green Bay and Wisconsin-Milwaukee started going by Green Bay and Milwaukee.  Maybe they decided that if you have an NFL team, like Green Bay, or an NBA and MLB team, like Milwaukee, you can do that.  I really don’t know.

Boise State plays Nevada Saturday in Reno.  Or to put it another way, they play Saturday at Nevada-Reno.  And I have just three more things to say about that.  The first is from Shakespeare, who said “What’s in a name? Would not that which we call a rose, by any other name, smell as sweet”.  The second is from my dad, who may not have made this up, but has always said “I don’t care what ya calls me as long as ya calls me for supper”.  And the third is from Al Davis, the former player, then coach, then owner of the Oakland Raiders, who said “Just win, baby”.

And Patrick Swayze said “Nobody puts Baby in a corner”, but that’s even less important than the rest of this stuff.