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Keuka College changing 'Wolfpack' nickname amid pressure from NC State

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Keuka College is changing its nickname from Wolfpack to Wolves under threat of legal action from NC State. Keuka, which is an NCAA Div. III school in New York state, adopted the mascot in 2014 during a re-branding phase and was contacted by NC State in 2015 regarding the use of the moniker.

The dispute isn't about similarities between logos or school colors -- as you'll discover with a quick trip to Keuka's athletics site. Keuka's Wolfpack is green, white, and yellow. The mascots are markedly dissimilar. The point of contention was the word "Wolfpack" itself; NC State felt that Keuka's use of the (one-word) moniker represented infringement on NCSU's federal trademark of the name.

Keuka College announced its decision to change its nickname rather than fight a legal battle in a release last week that included some pointed words from school president Jorge L. Diaz-Herrera.

"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," Diaz-Herrara said in a statement. "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."

I reached out to both schools for comment in an effort to get some additional clarification on this dispute.

"Keuka plays sports as far south as Florida, and NC State plays across the country, including markets close to Keuka College," NC State spokesman Fred Hartman told me via email. "Both institutions have NCAA teams and club sports teams that compete in the same sports. Neither institution has total control over how others might display or refer to their athletic name, including uses by local or national media and even various merchandise vendors."

Keuka spokesman Pete Bekisz told me through email that the school attempted to negotiate a compromise by expressing a willingness to change from "Wolfpack" to "Wolf Pack." (The University of Nevada legally uses the two-word form as its nickname.) Another possible concession included licensing fees.

But those fees probably would be minimal given the small stature of Keuka College, which has about 1,000 students. Or minimal, at least, compared to what NC State is already pulling in from trademarking licenses.

"Royalties from licensed sales of trademark merchandise generated $800,000 for student scholarships just this year," Hartman told me. "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."

While Keuka clearly disagrees on the infringement issue, this is where the saga ends. They understandably declined to spend money on a fight for a two-year-old mascot, and so there is once again just one Wolfpack.