Illiniwek appeal denied

Chief Illiniwek performs during halftime of the women´s basketball game Sunday. The Chief will continue to appear at basketball, football and volleyball, regardless of the NCAA´s denial of Illinois´ appeal. Tessa Pelias

Chief Illiniwek performs during halftime of the women´s basketball game Sunday. The Chief will continue to appear at basketball, football and volleyball, regardless of the NCAA´s denial of Illinois´ appeal. Tessa Pelias

By Courtney Linehan

Chief Illiniwek is hostile and abusive despite the University’s “good intentions and best efforts,” the NCAA announced Friday as it denied Illinois’ appeal of its inclusion in a policy banning American Indian imagery from postseason contests.

Four weeks after receiving Illinois’ appeal, the NCAA staff review committee changed its tune of the past few months, stating the names “Illini” and “Fighting Illini” are not American Indian-based and therefore do not create a “hostile and abusive” environment on campus. Chief Illiniwek, the association said, is another case.

“By continuing to use Native American nicknames, mascots and imagery, institutions assume responsibility over an environment which they cannot fully control,” Bernard Franklin, NCAA senior vice-president for governance and membership, said in a prepared statement released Friday. “Fans, opponents and others can and will exhibit behaviors that indeed are hostile and abusive to Native Americans.”

The NCAA refused to comment beyond Franklin’s one-page statement. A request Friday to speak to media relations representatives was denied and e-mails earlier in the week were not returned.

University spokesman Tom Hardy said the University sees the NCAA response as a victory on the Illini and Fighting Illini names, but a setback in regard to Chief Illiniwek and the Board of Trustees’ work toward its own decision.

“The case was basically that the Board has its self-autonomous institutional process and should be able to carry that out without interference from the NCAA,” Hardy said.

Franklin’s statement did not mention anything about the University’s argument that the NCAA policy interfered with the Board of Trustees’ own guiding principles regarding Illiniwek. In 2004 the Board adopted a “consensus resolution” policy, saying it hoped to bring Illiniwek supporters and opponents together to find the best solution for the campus and community. The Board approved a set of guidelines for coming to this resolution at its July meeting, a few weeks prior to the NCAA policy’s release.

“Obviously, the University and the Board of Trustees felt institutional autonomy and self-determination are a major reason for the institution to be exempt from the list,” Hardy said. “It is apparent by its response that the NCAA wasn’t persuaded by that argument yet, as they had minimal response to that in their decision announced Friday.”

Board Chairman Lawrence Eppley said in a press release that he is grateful the NCAA agreed with the University that “Illini” is a term derived from the name of the state and is not a reference to the people who once lived here.

“I am pleased the NCAA recognized what we’ve maintained all along,” Eppley said. “‘Illini’ is taken from the name of our patron state and ‘Fighting Illini’ refers to our University’s winning spirit and drive to excel.”

Hardy said the official response sent to the University addressed the 1995 U.S. Office of Civil Rights finding that Chief Illiniwek did not create a hostile environment on campus. He said the NCAA cited anecdotal evidence suggesting there have been instances of hostility since then, but he added that the University recently began a faculty-led inquest into whether Chief Illiniwek affects students’ educations.

“It’s a bit of a head scratcher when you consider that the Office of Civil Rights is an entire agency to ensure the enforcement of the Civil Rights Act,” Hardy said. “They came in, spent time on campus, talked to a lot of people and watched Chief Illiniwek perform.”

Franklin’s statement said the NCAA’s decision was based on the staff review committee’s own research, discussions with relevant American Indian groups and information provided by the University.

While the NCAA release did not provide further detail, John Froman, chief of the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, said the NCAA did contact him. The Peoria are the descendents of members of the “Illiniwek” confederation.

Froman said he told the NCAA that the term “Illini” was not a part of the Peoria language, and that his tribe was never called the Illini. He said the NCAA asked if he’d had recent contact with the University regarding the Chief, and what the tribe’s official position regarding Chief Illiniwek was.

“I told them the Chief was not representative of our tribe and culture, mainly because the costume is Sioux,” Froman said.

Hardy said the Board has not decided how to handle the NCAA’s denial of the Chief Illiniwek portion of the appeal. The next appeal option is for the University to go directly to the NCAA executive committee.

The NCAA continuously reiterates that its goal is not to force any school to alter its mascot, logo, or nickname. The requirement, the association says, is that member institutions comply with the NCAA’s non-discrimination policy and “promote an atmosphere of respect for and sensitivity to the dignity of every person.”

“At an ever-increasing rate of occurrence and volume, Native Americans have expressed their objections to the use of names, terms, imagery and mascots associated with athletic teams,” Franklin’s statement said.

No immediate change is planned at Illinois; Chief Illiniwek appeared as scheduled at volleyball and women’s basketball games this weekend. He will perform when men’s basketball opens its regular season against South Dakota State on Friday and when football closes its season against Northwestern on Saturday.

While the Board is not scheduled to meet again until January, it could possibly add a meeting to discuss the NCAA decision.

“The Board hasn’t determined when it’s going to make a decision about what the next approach is going to be,” Hardy said.

The NCAA policy, which goes into effect Feb. 1, 2006, prohibits the display of American Indian mascots, logos and nicknames in NCAA-sponsored postseason competitions. It also prohibits NCAA members using American Indian imagery from hosting postseason events. These include NCAA-sanctioned Division-I bowl games, men’s and women’s basketball NIT tournaments and post-season tournaments for all NCAA sports.

So far, at least half of the 18 schools originally deemed “hostile and abusive” have appealed:

-The Florida State Seminoles, Utah Utes and Central Michigan Chippewas got the OK because namesake tribes supported the uses.

-The Bradley Braves, Newberry College Indians and Illinois Fighting Illini appealed but lost and remain on the list.

-The North Dakota Fighting Sioux appealed, lost and are currently awaiting a decision on their second appeal.

-The Indiana University-Pennsylvania Indians and McMurray University Indians appealed, but have not received word from the NCAA.

-The Catawba College Indians and University of Louisiana-Monroe Indians are both preparing appeals.

-The Arkansas State Indians are considering an appeal. The Southeastern Oklahoma State Savages are re-evaluating the use of their nickname.

-Midwestern State dropped its “Indians” name to avoid application of the NCAA policy. Carthage College changed its nickname from “Redmen” to “Red Men,” which the NCAA approved.

-Alcorn State, the only school on the list with a representative on the NCAA Executive Committee, says it has no plans to appeal and is considering a name change.

-Calls to Chowan College (Braves) and Mississippi College (Choctaws) were not returned by press time.