Mascot changes can be a serious business in college sports. Viewers of ESPN got a taste of this earlier this year, when the sports network ran a spot about some University of Mississippi students who were trying to nominate "Star Wars" character Admiral Ackbar to represent Ole Miss' teams.
Ackbar backers will be distressed to know their guy didn't make it. On Thursday, the Ole Miss Rebels announced they are going with a bear.
That's Rebel Black Bear, to be exact. He succeeds Colonel Reb, whose goatee and garb conjured images of the Old South. Ole Miss has been without an on-field mascot since 2003, when Colonel Reb was benched. With Ole Miss left as the only Southeastern Conference school without such a mascot, students pushed for a replacement.
A student-led selection committee chose Rebel Black Bear over fellow finalists Rebel Land Shark and Hotty Toddy after reviewing extensive polling of students, faculty, staff, alumni and season ticket holders.
The committee’s website notes that the stories about Mississippi’s black bear “have been shared for generations,” and that novelist and Mississippi native William Faulkner wrote a story called “The Bear,” in which the bear Old Ben “stands as a symbol of pride, strength and toughness.”
The school always insisted it would keep the Rebels nickname – and that name inspired the well-publicized effort by some students to draft Ackbar, the squid-faced leader of the Rebel Alliance in “Star Wars VI: The Return of the Jedi.”
But not everyone was sold on Ackbar representing Ole Miss, including, reportedly, Lucasfilm. Ackbar wasn’t even one of the final 11 choices put forward by the committee this summer.
The school expects to start using Rebel Black Bear on-field in 2011.
Mississippi isn’t the only SEC school celebrating a mascot succession. The University of Georgia is expected to introduce its latest bulldog mascot, Uga VIII, before the Georgia-Vanderbilt football game on Saturday in Athens, Georgia.
While Mississippi’s bear will be someone in a costume, the Ugas of Georgia are real bulldogs. Uga VIII replaces Uga VII, which died last year.