Chief may dance again this fall

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Scott Bort

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By The Associated Press

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Chief Illiniwek likely has not danced his last dance at University of Illinois home football games and could perform at basketball games this winter because the school’s board of trustees has not settled on a solution to the long-simmering debate, athletic director Ron Guenther said Monday.

The school’s teams might go through the academic year unable to host postseason NCAA events because the trustees are taking the necessary time to reach a good decision on the Chief’s future, a decision that might not come before May 2007, Guenther said.

“I think that they have their own timetable and are looking to do the right thing,” he told The Associated Press. “The only thing I have told the president and the chancellor is that I trust the Board of Trustees and respect the issues.”

Guenther said he has no inside knowledge of the trustees’ decision-making process.

Illinois is barred from hosting postseason NCAA events because the organization has deemed Illiniwek and the dance a “hostile and abusive” use of American Indian imagery. The NCAA placed Illinois on its list of noncompliant schools last August and has upheld its decision through two university appeals.

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The Board of Trustees, in June 2004, adopted a resolution setting forth a process to seek what it terms a “consensus conclusion” regarding Chief Illiniwek’s future. It set no timetable for reaching that conclusion and throughout the debate over the NCAA policy, which was enacted last August, has maintained that the process is continuing.

“The only thing I can say about the status is no decisions have been made and the status quo remains as far as the Chief Illiniwek tradition,” university spokesman Tom Hardy said Monday. “The process continues, and there is no timetable.”

Defiance of the NCAA’s policy on American Indian imagery, for now, affects sports such as volleyball, tennis, soccer and wrestling. It doesn’t have as much effect on the big sports of football and basketball because postseason games in those sports are, for the most part, played at neutral sites.

But Guenther told the (Decatur) Herald & Review in an interview published Monday that he expects the NCAA to increase its penalties for schools that don’t comply.

“The next step, I believe, will be for them to say, `Hey, your basketball team cannot qualify. Your basketball team cannot play in the NCAA tournament,'” he said. “I already know they have suggested that’s what they’d like the (football) BCS to do. Fortunately, the BCS is not ruled by the NCAA.

“But they could do it in basketball. I don’t think it will stop with penalizing the Olympic sports by not letting them host.”

Not so, the NCAA said Monday.

“There has been no discussion whatsoever on increasing any type of sanctions,” spokesman Bob Williams said. “The policy is pretty clear, and the policy hasn’t changed.”

Guenther said there will be fallout no matter what decision is reached regarding Illiniwek’s future. But he told the newspaper that donors who have threatened to stop contributing and fans who have promised to stop buying tickets if Illiniwek’s dance is eliminated are “penalizing the student-athletes.”

“But I do know that historically, if you look at other institutions that have had to go through this decision, over a five-year period people are replaced with new people and life goes on,” Guenther said.