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 am the author of the "Field Guide To Covering Sports," the second edition now available from Congressional Quarterly Press/SAGE, and "Monster Trek: The Obsessive Search for Bigfoot" (U of Nebraska Press). Field Guide to Covering Sports, Second Edition goes beyond general guidance about sports writing, offering readers practical advice on covering 20 specific sports. From auto racing to wrestling, author Joe Gisondi gives tips on the seemingly straightforward—like where to stand on the sideline and how to identify a key player—along with the more specialized—such as figuring out shot selection in lacrosse and understanding a coxswain’s call for a harder stroke in rowing. In the new Second Edition, readers also explore sports reporting across multimedia platforms, developing a foundational understanding for social media, mobile media, visual storytelling, writing for television and radio, and applying sabermetrics. Fully revised with new examples and updated information to give readers confidence in covering just about any game, match, meet, race, regatta or tournament, Field Guide to Covering Sports, Second Edition is the ideal go-to resource to have on hand when mastering the beat. In "Monster Trek," Joe Gisondi brings to life the celebrities in bigfoot culture: people such as Matt Moneymaker, Jeff Meldrum, and Cliff Barackman, who explore remote wooded areas of the country for weeks at a time and spend thousands of dollars on infrared imagers, cameras, and high-end camping equipment. Pursuing the answer to why these seekers of bigfoot do what they do, Gisondi brings to the reader their most interesting—and in many cases, harrowing—expeditions. You can order both from Amazon.
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