In 2013-14, Division I athletics will feature ten schools using the nickname "Wildcats," specifically: Abilene Christian, Arizona, Bethune-Cookman, Davidson, Kansas State, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Northwestern, Villanova, and Weber State.
That's not far behind the number-three most common mascot, the Tigers, which has 12 schools. For former Big East member (and Villanova's second-most frequent football foe), Boston College, they are one of 15 schools using the "Eagles" nickname in Division I — at least if you include variations like Marquette's "Golden" Eagles.
The number-one option for college mascots, however, is the Bulldog. There are fifteen schools that use just "Bulldogs" as their nickname in NCAA Division I sports. New Big East member, Butler, is among those schools. Compared to the challenge of maintaining a live Tiger mascot, it is relatively easy to slap a dog-shaped jersey onto a bulldog on game-days.
Villanova's teams were named via a 1926 contest, where the University sought to choose a mascot for the school. The name "Wildcats" was suggested by then football coaching assistant Edward Hunsinger, a former All-American defensive end at Notre Dame. A wildcat can be any of a number of species of feral felines, but Villanova's 'Cat has generally resembled a bobcat.
Between 1930 and 1950, the university kept live wildcat in a cage at the Fieldhouse and brought out to appear at both home and away football games. Those live mascots were difficult to control and they were often agressive toward their ROTC handlers and others, which ultimately lead the university to switch over to a costumed mascot.
While all four of the live mascots at Villanova were named "Count Villan," the costumed student seen at games since the 1950s is now known as "Wil D. Cat."
Other schools using the Wildcat mascot have had varying length of traditions. Kentucky traces their mascot to 1976. New Hampshire adopted their nickname in 1926. Arizona traces their first Wildcats to 1915, when a pair of live Wildcats were delivered to campus. At Kansas State, the football team adopted the Wildcats name in 1915, but didn't make that name permanent until 1920, taking a hiatus from the name for five seasons between. At Northwestern, the university used a bear cub as its mascot until a losing season banned him from campus, but writers tagged their 1924 team with the Wildcat name, and it stuck.
Villanova wasn't copying these other schools when adopting the Wildcats nickname, but it was a popular term that