Thursday, August 25, 2005

NCAA policy change unclear

The Daily Illini - News
Issue: 8/24/05

NCAA policy change unclear
By Courtney Linehan

With aims of sending a clear message about its stance on what it considers "hostile and abusive" use of American Indian imagery, the NCAA executive committee ruled earlier this month to eliminate those images from postseason play.

While the Aug. 5 ruling sent a clear message about the NCAA's views of symbols like Chief Illiniwek, the immediate implications of its statements are still being clarified. For the University, no immediate change is planned at Assembly Hall, Huff Gym or Memorial Stadium. Chief Illiniwek will perform at the football season opener Sept. 3 at Memorial Stadium, and will continue to be present at home football, basketball and volleyball games throughout this fall.

But the NCAA's ruling may have far-reaching affects on Illinois' sports program.

"There will be no immediate change in the traditions and practices of the University at this time," University spokesman Tom Hardy said. "The plan now will be for Chief Illiniwek to continue doing what he's been doing.

"There are aspects of the decision that we feel need clarification. We're reviewing that and looking for answers from the NCAA before determining how we're going to proceed."

The NCAA executive committee ruled at its August meeting to prohibit member institutions from displaying in postseason competition what it deemed "hostile and abusive" racial, ethnic, or national origin-based mascots, nicknames and imagery. The measure came three months after 32 schools sent the NCAA self evaluations on their uses of words or images with American Indian connotations. Eighteen schools - including Illinois - were deemed to be in violation of the new policy.

In a press conference in which the NCAA announced its policy, indications were made that the policy was not established based on the content of those self evaluations. Ron Stratten, NCAA vice president for educational policy, said the NCAA hoped its member institutions would use the self evaluations as an opportunity to see where they should make changes on their own.

"The goal of self evaluation was to give the institution the opportunity to review its own policies and to look at the policies as they relate to the three goals of (the NCAA)," Stratten said. "And to really encourage the institutions to engage in a dialogue with American Indian cultures and tribes that are in their area and see how their actions are affecting those groups."

The University's response included a 13-page report and 27 related documents. Those included the 2000 Dialogue on Chief Illiniwek report, various Board of Trustees motions related to the school's nickname and symbol, and documentation of two Chief-related lawsuits. The NCAA looked at all 32 self evaluations and included every school that still uses any reference to American Indians on the list of "hostile and abusive" uses, said Gail Dent, NCAA associate director of public and media relations.

The list was established without a definition of "hostile and abusive." Dent said the idea was that any reference to American Indians was hostile and abusive, but added that individual institutions could appeal their inclusion on the list.

The policy only applies to schools using American Indian mascots. San Diego State University, which was asked to self-evaluate, was deemed to not be in violation because its "Aztecs" nickname and "Montezuma" mascot do not refer to American Indians.

"The issue focuses on Native Americans because Native Americans were the group that brought the issue to the NCAA's attention as imagery on campuses were offensive to them," Dent said.

The NCAA also offered generally applicable "recommended best practices" for the 18 violating schools to consider following. These include review and removal of "hostile and abusive references" from printed material and educating their school communities on the implications of hostile or abusive symbols.

The University's Board of Trustees is working towards a "consensus resolution," in which both pro- and anti-Chief opinions would be heard and considered in coming to a final conclusion about the symbol. Through this consensus resolution, the University already is working towards the NCAA's third recommendation of creating "a greater level of knowledge of Native American culture through outreach efforts and other means of communication."

The ruling emphasized that the NCAA could not tell member institutions which images or nicknames they could or could not adopt as symbols of their schools. But it stressed that the executive committee, which is composed of presidents from 19 schools, found these references unwelcome at postseason competition.

"What we're trying to say is that we find these abusive or hostile references to American Indian mascots to be unacceptable for NCAA championship competition," said Walter Harrison, chairman of the NCAA executive committee. "What an institution wishes to do is really its own business outside of NCAA championship competition."

Harrison said the Feb. 1, 2006, deadline is intended to give schools an opportunity to respond and possibly appeal.

This policy only affects NCAA postseason competitions. It does not apply to Big Ten tournaments. The Bowl Championship Series, another governing body, which overseas collegiate bowl games, has yet to rule on whether they will apply the same policy to the football postseason. The ruling will likely apply to the NIT basketball tournaments, but only because the NCAA recently purchased those programs.

For now, nothing will change at the University of Illinois.

The University will continue to work towards a consensus resolution. Chief Illiniwek will continue to perform. And the "Illini" name and Chief Illiniwek logo will still be used.

Hardy said that while the University was surprised by how harshly and vaguely the NCAA generalized the traditions of 18 different institutions, Illinois is paying close attention to what comes next and determining its own steps.

"We do know that any time the NCAA takes action like this it is a serious matter and we are treating it as a serious matter," Hardy said.

The new NCAA policy has four points:



1. UNIVERSITIES WITH 'HOSTILE AND ABUSIVE' USES CANNOT HOST POSTSEASON EVENTS

After Feb. 1, 2006, the NCAA will no longer award NCAA championship sites to schools that continue to use American Indian imagery. Dent said this includes all rounds of postseason competition. This means that fall sports like volleyball and soccer could potentially host competitions this fall, but that winter and spring contests, and all those in future years, will not be played at any school using American Indian imagery.

2. PRE-DETERMINED SITES MUST COVER REFERENCES TO AMERICAN INDIANS

If a school using American Indian imagery or nicknames in its athletic programs has already been awarded the chance to host an NCAA championship event, that school must take "reasonable steps" to cover those references. The University is not currently scheduled to host any postseason competitions, but again, could possibly host a fall contest.

Additionally, the individual schools must assume the cost of covering these references.

3. SCHOOLS MUST REMOVE REFERENCES FROM BAND, CHEERLEADER AND MASCOT UNIFORMS

NCAA member institutions have until Aug. 1, 2008, to remove references to American Indians from band, cheerleader, dance team and mascot uniforms when performing at NCAA championship events. However, this does not mean that Chief Illiniwek will be allowed to perform at postseason competitions until then. The Chief, which is officially a symbol of the University and not a mascot, is banned from performing at any postseason competitions, effective when the decision was released Aug. 5.

4. REFERENCES TO AMERICAN INDIANS MUST BE REMOVED FROM TEAM UNIFORMS IMMEDIATELY

Athletic teams of member institutions cannot display American Indian names or symbols on their uniforms in NCAA championship competition, effective immediately. The schools may continue to use these names and images during the regular seasons and conference tournaments, but not in postseason contests that the NCAA regulates.

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