U of I appeals NCAA ruling

By Courtney Linehan

llinois is fighting its inclusion on the NCAA’s list of schools with “hostile and abusive” American Indian mascots, logos and nicknames, sending the NCAA a lengthy appeal Friday.

The appeal calls for the NCAA to acknowledge the importance of the school’s self-determination as the University of Illinois Board of Trustees works toward a consensus resolution regarding the University’s Chief Illiniwek symbol and “Illini” and “Fighting Illini” nicknames. It also details three other specific areas in which the NCAA policy, the appeal said, “incorrectly and unfairly characterizes UIUC as an institution that displays ‘hostile and abusive’ American Indian mascots, nicknames and imagery.”

“The appeal makes some strong, well-rounded arguments on behalf of the University and lead among those is the case to be made for self-determination by the University,” University spokesman Tom Hardy said. “The feeling of the Board of Trustees is that it is important to maintain that self-determination. The Board has taken charge of that autonomy and self-determination and the NCAA policy interferes with that.”

Last spring, the NCAA required 32 member institutions to file reports on the uses of American Indian mascots, logos and nicknames associated with those schools’ athletic programs. On Aug. 5, the governing body of intercollegiate sports announced that 18 of those colleges and universities would be banned from using their mascots, logos and nicknames at NCAA championship events and could not host those events as long as they maintained the American Indian imagery.

Illinois is the eighth school to appeal its inclusion on the list. Florida State, Central Michigan and Utah won their appeals and were removed. North Dakota appealed, but that appeal was denied because two of the three Sioux tribes in North Dakota issued statements opposing that university’s “Fighting Sioux” nickname. Three schools besides Illinois – Bradley, Indiana University-Pennsylvania and Newberry College – have not yet received decisions about their appeals.

“We are reviewing appeals on a very aggressive pace,” NCAA spokeswoman Gail Dent said. “I don’t have a timeframe of when Illinois’ appeal will be settled, but we anticipate a quick answer.”

Illinois’ appeal focuses on four areas: the importance of self-determination, the history of the “Illini” and “Fighting Illini” nicknames, the NCAA’s claim that Chief Illiniwek is “hostile and abusive,” and the flaws in the NCAA policy.

The appeal’s most prominent point is that the NCAA policy hinders the University’s ability to make its own decision on the future of the Chief Illiniwek symbol and “Fighting Illini” nickname, which during the last 15 years has become a hot topic on campus. In July 2004, the Board adopted a “consensus resolution” policy in dealing with the controversy, and in July 2005, just weeks before the NCAA ruling, voted in favor of a set of guidelines for working towards that consensus.

“The NCAA decision has, to say the least, put the process on a sidetrack while we respond to the NCAA policy,” Hardy said. “The Board understands that the process begins again as soon as we can get this NCAA process resolved.”

The appeal also claims that the University’s nicknames have no direct American Indian origins. “Illini” was a word coined by the student newspaper, now the Daily Illini, and used in reference to the students and alumni. The name first appeared in print in 1874, 52 years before Chief Illiniwek’s first performance.

As for the Chief, the University contends that labeling the symbol “hostile and abusive” directly disagrees with a 1995 study by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. That report stated that the Chief Illiniwek tradition did not create a “racially hostile environment at the University.”

But NCAA spokesman Bob Williams said that the decision alone was not enough to keep Illinois off the “hostile and abusive” list.

“The fact that the Office of Civil Rights came to the University and looked at a specific set of allegations in regards to the Chief isn’t in itself a determination,” NCAA spokesman Bob Williams said. “In 2001, the U.S. Committee on Civil Rights sent the NCAA a memorandum stating its concern with the use of all American Indian mascots.”

Finally, the appeal points to flaws in the NCAA Executive Committee’s process for issuing the new set of guidelines. It says the NCAA failed to follow its own policies, that its process led to “inaccurate and erroneous” results, and that the 36 months it examined was too narrow a time period and excluded important information – in Illinois’ case, the Office of Civil Rights decision.

Williams said there is no way to estimate when Illinois’ appeal will be decided. He said the appeals are heard in the order in which they are received, and that the NCAA expected the varying circumstances surrounding each member institution’s imagery to result in numerous appeals of the blanket policy.

“Each institution’s particular circumstance is different, so it’s not unexpected that we would have appeals,” Williams said. “As far as our point of view, this is working its way through the process we set up in the beginning.”