Thursday, May 04, 2006

NCAA keeps UI on 'hostile and abusive' list; trustees looking at future options

DENIED- NCAA keeps UI on 'hostile and abusive' list; trustees looking at future options
Daily Illini
Courtney Linehan
Nine months after declaring American Indian imagery including Chief Illiniwek "hostile and abusive," the NCAA executive committee stood by its policy that the 80-year-old symbol is grounds for barring the University from hosting postseason sporting events.
The committee announced Friday that Illinois, University of North Dakota and Indiana University of Pennsylvania will not be permitted to host NCAA-sponsored championship events as long as they continue using American Indian mascots, logos or nicknames with their athletic programs. Those schools will also be prevented from displaying any references to American Indian imagery at postseason contests.
An earlier round of appeals resulted in a different NCAA committee declaring that the names "Illini" and "Fighting Illini" are a variation on the word "Illinois," and therefore are not offensive.
On Friday, the executive committee also determined that Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., which retired its American Indian mascot in 1989 but still goes by the nickname "Braves," would be removed from the list of offenders but will be on a watch list for five years to ensure its usage does not become offensive. Bradley is the only school to be placed on the watch list.
"The NCAA has the obligation and responsibility to ensure that its championships are conducted in a way that respects sportsmanship and recognizes the rights and respects the points of view and ethnicities of its fans and its players," NCAA President Myles Brand said in a teleconference Friday.
Controversy has enshrouded the Chief for more than 15 years. The University considers Illiniwek a symbol, not a mascot, in part because he only performs for a few minutes at halftime, and does not pal around with cheerleaders and band members throughout contests. Illiniwek only performs at regular season men's and women's basketball, football and volleyball games which the University hosts.
Illiniwek's supporters say he is a respectful tribute to American Indian culture, citing his authentic Ogallala Sioux regalia and dance steps that, while exaggerated, are rooted in American Indian fancy dancing.
"We think it represents tradition and does it respectfully, especially compared to other representations out there," said Allyn Ricci, sophomore in Education who serves as community service coordinator for Students for Chief Illiniwek, a Registered Student Organization.
But several campus groups disagree, saying the Chief is not authentic or respectful. Illiniwek's opponents say the symbol perpetuates a stereotype of American Indians and should be retired.
"It's the University, not the NCAA, that is hurting the athletics because the Board chooses to maintain a racist mascot, instead of dealing with the issue and giving the athletics the ability to host postseason play," Jen Tayabji, co-coordinator of Progressive Resource/Action Cooperative, an RSO that has declared itself anti-Chief, said in a press release Friday.
The University has adopted a wait-and-see policy to fighting the NCAA policy, and has been deliberate in dealing with nearly two decades of debate surrounding the University's symbol. Tom Livingston, who portrayed Illiniwek in the late 1980s when the controversy took center stage, said that measured approach has kept the tradition alive when hastier changes might have prematurely ended it.
"If the University changed course every time an outside body weighed in on Chief Illiniwek, we wouldn't have had the last seven portrayers of Chief Illiniwek," Livingston said. "The NCAA's characterization of the Chief as abusive and hostile, there's nothing I've seen publicly or privately behind-the-scenes that is abusive or hostile about this. I think they made the decision in a vacuum."
The University sent three appeals to the NCAA, and with the April 28 decision, exhausted its options in fighting the restrictions.
The appeals have centered around institutional autonomy - the NCAA, the University claims, does not have the authority to tell its member institutions what they can and cannot do. The University has repeatedly stated the NCAA is "the only game in town," and Illinois has no choice but to participate in NCAA contests.
"We've asked in our appeals, maybe too indirectly, 'Where is the limit of your jurisdiction? Where else do you want to tell us what to do?'" said Larry Eppley, chairman of the Board of Trustees.
The NCAA disagrees, however, and said Illinois has two options: discontinue the Chief Illiniwek tradition or stop hosting postseason competitions. If the University was banned from hosting postseason competitions, it would most immediately and most strongly affect Illinois' non-revenue sports - football and basketball do not host postseason contests. Ironically, Eppley said, the sports affected are the events where Chief Illiniwek does not perform.
There was little visible reaction from students when the final ruling was announced Friday. But Student Body President Ryan Ruzic, junior in LAS, cautions that this does not mean they are indifferent to Illiniwek's fate.
"I don't think it's the appeal being denied that students will care about," Ruzic said. "Rather, it's the actions the University will have to take that students will react to."
A March 2004 student government poll found that nearly 70 percent of the 13,000 students who voted supported retaining the symbol. Ruzic said the anti-Chief movement may have grown a little since that time, but the pro-Chief side still represents the majority of students.
Eppley said the University will not act hastily and will base its next move on what other schools do and how the NCAA responds to those actions. He would not say whether Illiniwek will perform at the Sept. 2 football opener, the Chief's next scheduled appearance.
"We've found that we've benefited by not reacting too quickly to things we learn from the NCAA," Eppley said. "It's served us well so far, and I suspect it will continue to serve us well."
© Copyright 2006 The Daily Illini


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