There's a common belief that New College students adopted the "Null Set" nickname for sports teams as an intentional and ironic wink at their bookish nature and lack of competitive teams.
There’s a common belief that New College students adopted the “Null Set” nickname for sports teams as an intentional and ironic wink at their bookish nature and lack of competitive teams.
The true story, as it often is with New College, is even more unusual.
Back in the 1970s, when the student government constitution was drafted, an actual mascot, “Brownie the Dog,” was named, after a stray that ran around campus and students fed and played with.
That persisted well into the 1990s, when Brownie, almost certainly, was no more. And so, in 1997 the then-officers compiled a huge slate of updates to the neglected constitution, to be adopted at the students’ standard “town hall” meeting.
“My co-president, Martha Alter, and I proposed a raft of amendments to the Constitution,” recalled alumnus Matthew Grieco. However, students could not agree on a new mascot. The approved amendment simply deleted Brownie without putting anything in his place.
When it came time to reprint the Constitution with the incorporated amendments, “the decision was made to put empty brackets there until such time as a new mascot were chosen, because nobody knew any other way to accurately reflect the amendment’s effect in print,” Grieco explained.
Empty parentheses, [ ] , is mathematical notation for the empty set. Somewhere along the line, that evolved into “Null Set,” which is a different thing, mathematically, but has a better ring to it than “Empty Set.”
It’s lasted for almost 20 years, and probably will stick forever, as an homage to the nerdy, nonconformist nature of New College.
“I think it’s wonderful to treat ‘Null Set’ as the mascot and to embrace it as an emblem of New College’s idiosyncratic relationship with the world of extramural athletics,” Grieco said. “It happened by a weird cocktail of design and stalemate, and not as a deliberate commentary on that idiosyncrasy.”
For the record, New College officially competes in intercollegiate sailing, as a member of the Intercollegiate Sailing Association of North America, South Atlantic division, and in 2013 actually qualified to compete in the national championship.