Using team nicknames correctly

Here’s another AP Sports quiz that focuses primarily on letters H-P, but the aspect I will hit hardest is the proper use of pronouns related to schools, cities and nicknames – a problem that arises frequently in stories. In the quiz, I erroneously inserted ‘their’ for ‘Eastern Illinois University.’ I also slipped in references to pitches (knuckleball, fastball), postgame/pregame, and horse racing distances (furlongs).

The rule for team pronouns is rather simple: school names and city names receive an ‘its’ while team nicknames are replaced by ‘their.’


  • Ole Miss won its second straight college football game over Alabama on Saturday night.
  • LeBron James helped carry Cleveland to its second NBA Finals.

And further:

  • The Rebels won their second straight college football game over Alabama on Saturday night.
  • LeBron James helped carry the Cavaliers to their second NBA Finals.

Don’t be fooled by nicknames that sound singular such as these for several NBA franchises: Magic, Heat, Jazz, Thunder. Treat them as plurals as well, meaning they deserve a ‘their.’

In addition, remember to use the corresponding singular verbs with city, school names and plural verbs with team nicknames.


  • Ole Miss is ranked No. 3 after its victory over Alabama last week.
  • Chicago is probably going to clinch one of the two National League wild-card spots.


  • The Rebels are ranked No. 3 after their victory over Alabama last week.
  • The Cubs are close to clinching a wild-card berth in the National League playoffs.

About jgisondi

I covered sports and worked as a sports copy editor for more than 20 years at several newspapers in Florida, including the Fort Myers News-Press, Clearwater Sun, Florida Today and Orlando Sentinel. I started writing for a weekly sports publication in Coral Springs, Fla., at age 15. I have been hooked on sports journalism ever since. I was fortunate to have worked with some amazing editors along the way, journalists who took the time to help me even when my copy was not top-notch. Now, I teach journalism at Eastern Illinois University and work as an editor for, a vertical that focuses on Big Ten athletics. A second edition of the "Field Guide To Covering Sports" will be available sometime in February 2017. The book is a practical guide to preparing, observing, interviewing and writing about 20 different sports, from auto racing to wrestling. Chapters also address ways to cover high school sports, fantasy sports, to develop sports blogs. You can also learn how to cover games, to write features and to interview better. Fans can also learn basic rules of these sports, along with ways to better observe the action. New chapters in the second edition will address social media, advanced analytics, fantasy sports coverage and revised, expanded chapters address game coverage, features and columns, among other new sections.
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