It’s been over 43 years since IU has had a recognizable face to go along with its name. Ever since, all there is to look at are the IU letters that make up the pitchfork and the “Hoosiers” nickname — which hardly anyone understands.
A brief history of Indiana’s mascot attempts and suggestions seem necessary. Most attempts have been utterly stupid, explaining their short tenures.
Between 1908 and 1965, IU attempted mascots including an owl, a real-life toddler, a golden eagle named Jim Watson and a fraternity bulldog named Ox.
In 1965, the student senate unanimously voted on a new mascot to represent Indiana: the bison.
The main inspiration for the choice is the state seal of Indiana, which features a bison. Already, it has more connection to the state than any previous mascot.
At first, students advocated for a live bison to run out on the field. Due to financial constraints, that idea was turned down. So, they turned to a costume.
The original draft was rough to say the least. There were no arm holes inside or hind legs on the costume. It also had terrible posture.
According to a 1969 IDS article, the school reached out to Walt Disney for help in a new design. Disney redirected the school to a Los Angeles firm, who introduced a new design.
It was not so improved. The inside of the costume swelled with heat, and there were no eyeholes, requiring a cheerleader to pull the bison around by rope.
Unable to ever get the right design, the bison was discontinued in 1969 after four years as the mascot.
Indiana tried its hand at a mascot once more in 1979 with Mr. Hoosier Pride. The reception was terrible, and he was booted after one year.
Since then, the ever-so familiar pitchfork has been Indiana’s identity. While it isn’t necessarily bad, it’s time to bring back the bison, and here’s why:
In all of Division I, there are currently three schools with a bison mascot, none of them at the Football Bowl Subdivision level Indiana is. Indiana is the biggest brand of those schools by far, so adopting the bison has the potential to become one of the more recognizable college mascots due to IU’s already big brand and a distinctive icon.
What is a Hoosier?
Those associated with Indiana are all too familiar with this question. The bison would not only be an image for the nickname, but it could further tie together the state identity due to its roots.
Branding and marketing
This is, by far, the greatest argument for reinstating the bison. The branding and marketing opportunities would be endless with a new logo to plaster everywhere.
Adidas would eat it up. A whole new clothesline featuring the bison could be introduced, and I can assure you that merchandise would fly off the shelves.
In terms of school use, there are several directions to go. First to mind is a new set of alternate uniforms, likely appearing on a football helmet or as subtle as on the waistband of basketball uniforms. At its biggest, it could be a temporary or permanent logo on courts and fields across all sports.
Since Indiana has abandoned mascots all together, we’ve seen the “IU” pitchfork have multiple evolutions. Like the thicker pitchfork from 1976-1981, the drop shadow form used from 1982-2002 and now its current solid pitchfork.
While continuing the same logo can be identified as history and tradition, it can also be boring. Introducing something new to see and identify with is refreshing, and it’s ten times better when it’s a bison.
If you’re unsure of your stance on the bison, just imagine an Old Oaken Bucket game with Purdue Pete and Indiana’s bison mascot facing off. Two magnificent figures facing off as the pride of their respective universities.
The university itself seems dead set on keeping the trident, which makes sense. The pitchfork has become the school’s entire brand, so it would be hard to make that transition.
That doesn’t mean it can’t, or shouldn’t, be done. What would it take to get things in motion? Maybe a petition, a push from the student government or even from an alumni group.
Whether or not this will happen in the future is unknown, but one thing is certain. If Indiana ever decides to bring back a mascot, it should be the bison.