Thursday, May 04, 2006

Illinois rejects Chief ruling, sends appeal

Illinois rejects Chief ruling, sends appeal
University argues they, not NCAA, have authority to handle Illiniwek

Daily Illini
Courtney Linehan
Illinois appealed a recent anti-Chief NCAA decision Tuesday, waiting until the last day before the University symbol would have been banned from postseason competitions and the school would have been barred from hosting championship events.
By sending the petition, Illinois will likely get an extension until at least April 27, two months after Chief Illiniwek's last scheduled appearance of the season. The appeal asks, however, that the University be exempt until the academic year ends May 15.
"We want to be removed from the list and we want to assert the University's principle of self-determination," University spokesman Tom Hardy said. "In order to do those kinds of things, we need to work through the NCAA's administrative process."
Hardy said the NCAA decision has distracted the Board of Trustees' from working to bridge the divide between Chief supporters and opponents. Illinois' latest appeal, signed by Board chairman Larry Eppley, said the board intends to make "hard choices" regarding the Chief tradition, but did not mention retiring Illiniwek.
"Some change in the status quo regarding the Chief Illiniwek tradition is possible," the appeal says. "The options are limited only by the parameters established by the University's board, whose members are deeply familiar and engaged with the issue."
The 28-page document sent to the NCAA Executive Committee uses several examples of case law - including Supreme Court rulings regarding the NCAA - to argue that the NCAA policy and recent rejection of an initial appeal "violate principles of institutional autonomy." The University has argued since the Aug. 5 policy change that Illinois should have the right to come to its own solution about the Chief, rather than be forced to comply with an outside organization's demands.
The NCAA is the governing body of intercollegiate athletics, but the appeal argues that its opposition to Chief Illiniwek steps beyond the athletic realm.
"This appeal … is about a policy that asks a member institution to decide between abandoning an 80-year-old tradition cherished by many or face diminished participation in NCAA championship events," the appeal says.
While the initial NCAA ruling on Aug. 5 prohibited 18 member schools from using their American Indian mascots, logos and nicknames, more than half the schools on that list are no longer affected. Illinois first appealed the policy on Oct. 14, asking that the term "Illini" and the Chief Illiniwek symbol be exempted from the NCAA prohibition so Illinois' Board of Trustees could continue independently pursuing a resolution to the 15-year-old debate. When the NCAA staff review committee ruled only half in Illinois' favor, saying "Illini" was not offensive, the Board decided to send an appeal directly to the NCAA executive committee.
That committee decided earlier this month that it would delay reviewing three other appeals - from North Dakota, Bradley and Indiana University of Pennsylvania - until its April 27 meeting. At that time it decided any school that sent a second appeal before the policy's scheduled start would automatically receive the same exemption.
The University argues that the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights - which determined in 1995 that Chief Illiniwek did not create a hostile environment on campus - has the right to take action regarding the Chief. The NCAA, the University says, does not.
On Nov. 11 an NCAA staff review committee approved the use of the "Illini" and "Fighting Illini" nicknames. The committee ruled, however, that people outside the University could make the Chief Illiniwek symbol "hostile and abusive" despite the University's "good intentions and best efforts."
"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 when the original Illiniwek appeal was denied.
The new appeal argues that the NCAA has yet to factually prove the Chief creates a "hostile and abusive" atmosphere. It further raises the issue that the NCAA never actually defined "hostile and abusive," its catchphrase for American Indian imagery it opposes, and arbitrarily singled-out schools to be subject to the ruling.
Additionally, the University claims the initial NCAA policy violates the First Amendment and antitrust laws.
"They never offered any outline or definition of what constitutes 'hostile and abusive' behavior," Hardy said. "They said in August they'd provide civil rights case law to support their position, but we're the ones who've provided that."
While this means that Illinois will be allowed to use the Chief Illiniwek symbol in the men's basketball postseason and can host other postseason tournaments, it does not mean that Illinois will change its policy of Chief Illiniwek not performing at the men's basketball NCAA tournament. The Chief has not appeared there since the Flyin' Illini competed in the Final Four in 1989.
Most of the 18 schools originally targeted have been removed from the "hostile and abusive" list for various reasons the University sees as arbitrary. Illinois' appeal asks that the decision be reversed, or at least limited to more specific sporting arenas.
"The NCAA policy sees black and white in areas where there's a lot of gray," Hardy said. "What other things could come up and how would those be handled?"
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