What’s in a name? A tale of two ‘Wolfpacks’

John Christensen The Chronicle-Express

Keuka College President Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera has announced that after the 2015-2016 season, Keuka College will no longer be known by the athletics nickname “Wolfpack.” The decision comes after legal pressure was exerted on the small college by the much larger NCAA powerhouse, North Carolina State University, claiming an infringement upon NC State’s registered trademark.

Next season, Keuka’s teams will be referred to as the “Wolves.” The college’s mascot, Kacey, will remain the same, as will the wolf head image and much of the Keuka College athletics logos.

Previously known as “The Storm,” the new Keuka nickname, “Wolfpack,” was chosen two years ago as a result of student recommendation after the student body came together in a powerful group to clean up after heavy floods severely damaged the area.

Last year, North Carolina State issued Keuka College an official request to stop using the Wolfpack name, despite the fact many athletics teams co-exist with the same trademarked nickname. According to Keuka’s administration, the litmus test is whether there is a likelihood of consumer confusion between the two marks.

“No one could reasonably confuse Keuka College with NC State given the significant differences in our schools— from our size, to our division, to our colors,” said Díaz-Herrera, “While NC State may be willing to spend their monetary resources on legal challenges at a time when the very value of higher education is being called into question, Keuka College is not.”

It is estimated the legal cost to Keuka to make a legal challenge could exceed $500,000 and take over 5 years to litigate. “While we know nobody could confuse the red-and-white, Division I NC State with the green-and-gold, Division III Keuka College, NC State insists otherwise,” says Diaz-Herrera.

“Although we exhausted every effort in an attempt to negotiate, NC State made clear their intention to litigate this in federal court if we didn’t change voluntarily,” he says, “and would restrict our ability to use our nickname until the case was completed.”

In a letter sent to Keuka students, Diaz-Herrera wrote, “Although it pains us not to fight this challenge when we’re confident we can win, doing so isn’t a prudent use of our resources. When students and donors invest in Keuka College, they expect us to use those dollars wisely and devote those resources toward our primary mission: top-quality higher education. While NC State may be willing to spend their monetary resources on legal challenges at a time when the very value of higher education is being called into question, Keuka College is not.

“While they can insist we change our name, they can never break our spirit. NC State may claim to own ‘Wolfpack,’ but they certainly don’t own what it means: a powerful group of people working together towards a common goal. Keuka College, and Keuka College alone, owns and personifies that.”

W. Randolph “Randy” Woodson, Chancellor of NC State University, responded with the following:

“NC State’s use of Wolfpack (one word) dates back to 1921, and the university has maintained a federal registration for the mark since 1983. A basic trademark search shows that NC State is the only university that uses the unique mark, Wolfpack, for its collegiate athletic teams.

“Both NC State and Keuka College are members of the National Collegiate Athletics Association, have NCAA teams and club sports teams that compete in the same sports. Keuka plays sports as far south as Florida, and NC State plays across the country, including markets close to Keuka college. Neither institution has total control over how others might display or refer to their athletic name, including uses by local or national media or even various merchandise vendors.

“Our university brand and its trademarks bring a lot of value to NC State and our students. In fact, royalties from licensed sales of trademark merchandise generated $800,000 for student scholarships just this year. For this and several other reasons, like many universities, NC State works to preserve the value of its trademarks, avoid consumer misinformation, and protect trademarks from possible infringement.

“When we learned about the new use of Wolfpack by Keuka College, NC State staff contacted the college in early 2015 to explain the situation and ask that they stop using the trademark. In the end, after several months of no action, NC State issued a letter explaining that the university would pursue avenues to protect its trademark. We also communicated flexibility in allowing Keuka College time to transition away from the mark.”

Since the news broke last week, NC State has been the target of much criticism in the national media, characterizing the decision as bullying.

John Moriello of Fox Sports writes, “Shared nicknames at all levels of sports are common and rarely cause confusion – the Detroit Tigers and Princeton Tigers seem to co-exist just fine and there are 41 Eagles in college sports alone.”

One person with a unique perspective on the matter is Craig Pahl of Penn Yan, a former student athlete from NCSU and member of the 2009/2010 ACC Championship hockey team. In a letter to the editor of the Chronicle-Express, Pahl writes;

"I transferred to Keuka College in the fall of 2014 and will be graduating this May. I am likely the only student to ever attend both Colleges.

"NCSU Pride runs deep. The College is steeped in tradition going back to its founding in 1887. Other than sharing the title of Wolfpack the two colleges could not have been more individualistic.

"I do not feel that Keuka had any malicious intentions. I also feel NCSU has the right to protect their interests in copyright infringement. However, plenty of colleges have similar colors, acronym names, and animal mascots.

"Keuka only adopted the new title to better reflect the unity that exists of the campus body as part of its growing process from a sleepy lakeside college to a cutting edge dynamic learning environment. NCSU should reconsider that under the circumstances sharing the Title Wolfpack."