As the Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans get set to renew their annual rivalry on the gridiron, it looks like ESPN has created a brand new rivalry of its own with the University of North Texas.

In a promo ad for the upcoming Michigan-Michigan State game, ESPN referred to Michigan State as the “Mean Green” in references to the school’s dominant color. While these promotions have played it fast and loose with monikers in recent years, perhaps as a way to make them more casual, using an actual college nickname for a different school seems like a big no-no. That’s especially true when that nickname is copyrighted.

Word got back to North Texas athletics director Wren Baker about the promotion and he immediately took to the main resource America uses now to disseminate all it’s important information: Twitter.

“Hey @espn & @MSU_Athletics, without a doubt @MeanGreenSports is the hottest athletic dept in the country. BUT you can’t just try to steal #MeanGreen. It’s trademarked and has been for a very, very long time. Cease and desist letter on the way.”

On one hand, it’s comical that the AD of a university decided to communicate directly with ESPN and Michigan State via social media rather than call them directly. On the other hand, it worked. He also wasn’t kidding about his threat, as USA TODAY Sports confirmed that the school’s licensing attorneys were ready to send that cease and desist warning on Wednesday morning.

However, cooler heads would prevail and our short, regional nightmare was soon over. ESPN quickly released a statement acknowledging the mistake and their plans to correct it for future promotional ads. They also absolved Michigan State of any blame on the misappropriated nickname.

Though, it should be noted that the Spartans are guilty of using the phrase willy-nilly from time to time as well.

The whole thing was a minor blip for ESPN and MSU, but it actually ended up being a nice national PR hit for North Texas. And as the dust clears, it looks like Baker and UNT are leaning into it.

Much like Texas A&M’s 12th Man, now everyone knows that you can’t just use the phrase “Mean Green” at your leisure when the context is college athletics. Cue NBC’s “The More You Know” shooting star…

[USA Today]

About Sean Keeley

Sean Keeley is the creator of the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and author of 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and many other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle. Send tips/comments/complaints to