Thursday, May 04, 2006

UI trustees consider remaining options on Chief

UI trustees consider remaining options on Chief
By Christine Des Garennes
Saturday April 29, 2006
Has Chief Illiniwek danced his last dance at the University of Illinois?
The NCAA on Friday announced the UI cannot host championship events unless it gets rid of its American Indian symbol. But the university has yet to decide the exact fate of the 80-year-old symbol.
The fact is, it's a final ruling, said UI Board of Trustees Chairman Lawrence Eppley. "The ruling is in effect today, so we're subject to the sanctions. Right now we're out of compliance," said Eppley, who said he was disappointed with the NCAA announcement.
After the NCAA last August issued the policy prohibiting postseason competition at schools with "hostile or abusive" racial, ethnic or national origin mascots or symbols, the UI has been involved in a lengthy appeals process. The UI was one of 18 schools included on the list of institutions with "hostile or abusive" mascots or symbols.
During the appeals process, the UI did win the right to use the names "Illini" and "Fighting Illini," but not Chief Illiniwek.
What next?
" The board wants to take the final report from NCAA ... go through it carefully and take it into consideration with the guiding principles of their consensus process and make a determination on how to proceed from there," UI spokesman Tom Hardy said.
This consensus conclusion, which the board decided last July it would work toward, would be a resolution where not one particular interest group would be a winner at the expense of declaring others losers, Hardy said.
The board will meet May 11 in Chicago, and the topic of Chief Illiniwek may or may not be on the agenda, Eppley said.
Throughout the appeals process, the UI has maintained that it should resolve the issue itself. It also has said the NCAA Executive Committee exceeded its authority when it decided American Indian imagery was a "core issue" and set policy without following its bylaws.
On campus Friday, UI law student Josh Rohrscheib, outgoing co-president of the Illinois Student Senate, said student reaction has been mixed, and many are not sure what it will all mean. But most do agree on one point, he said: the issue sure is divisive.
" The whole point of a mascot or symbol, whatever you want to call it, is to unite a campus. The fact is, the Chief is a very divisive force on campus," Rohrscheib said. "The university has a tight budget. We don't have nearly as many academic advisers as we need. Class sizes are huge. There are so many more important things to be addressed. At the end of the day, the Chief is not doing what it's supposed to do."
What the ruling means for UI sports programs is that, in addition to not being allowed to host NCAA championships, the UI will be invited to participate in championships only if it does not have American Indian references on uniforms or associated athletic program activities.
"The inability to host NCAA championship competition would have an unbelievably negative effect on our programs," UI athletic director Ron Guenther said in a written release. "A ban on hosting NCAA championship events would put Illini athletics at a competitive disadvantage and make it hard to recruit top student athletes and coaches."
Part of the mission of the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics is for the UI to compete at Big Ten and national championships. And the athletic department has invested a lot of resources in its facilities and scholarships to do this, he noted.
Friday's ruling could cost Illinois the chance to host NCAA men's tennis tournament matches May 12-14.
Ranked sixth in the country, the Illini would be a certain pick as a first- and second-round site for the eighth consecutive year. The NCAA will announce sites Wednesday, and it's unclear if Illinois is eligible.
"We're certainly disappointed in the ruling," men's tennis coach Brad Dancer said from Minneapolis, where his Illini beat Northwestern on Friday in a quarterfinal match at the Big Ten tournament. "I know Ron (Guenther) is working with the board to see what solutions there are. We've got all of our balls in the school's court. We want the opportunity to host."
News-Gazette sports editor Jim Rossow contributed to this report.

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