Indian mascots limited by NCAA

Colleges using them barred from tournaments

August 06, 2005|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,SUN STAFF

Wearing a flowing headdress of turkey feathers and authentic Sioux garb, Chief Illiniwek has been a halftime tradition at the home basketball court of the University of Illinois Fighting Illini, performing his ceremonial dance.

But if the national runners-up return to the NCAA tournament in March, the chief won't be there. Nor will any other mascots with an American Indian theme.

The NCAA banned yesterday the use of American Indian mascots and nicknames during its postseason tournaments, a rule that affects Illinois and 17 other schools.

In addition, NCAA officials said that unless they change their nicknames, the schools can no longer host NCAA championships.

After Feb. 1, nicknames or mascots deemed "hostile or abusive" will not be allowed on team uniforms during NCAA tournaments. By Aug. 1, 2008, cheerleaders, dance teams and band uniforms will also be required to comply.

"Colleges and universities may adopt any mascot that they wish, as that is an institutional matter," said Walter Harrison, chairman of the NCAA Executive Committee and president of the University of Hartford.

"But as a national association, we believe that mascots, nicknames or images deemed hostile or abusive in terms of race, ethnicity or national origin should not be visible at the championship events that we control."

Policy protested

Florida State University President T.K. Wetherell was among the college presidents who immediately protested the decision. At Florida State, a student portraying a Seminole leader traditionally charges down the football field on an appaloosa horse and plants a flaming spear at midfield to start the game.

"Florida State University is stunned at the complete lack of appreciation for cultural diversity shown by the National Collegiate Athletic Association's executive committee," Wetherell said in a statement. "That the NCAA would now label our close bond with the Seminole Tribe of Florida as culturally `hostile and abusive' is both outrageous and insulting.

"Accordingly, I intend to pursue all legal avenues to ensure that this unacceptable decision is overturned, and that this university will forever be associated with the `unconquered' spirit of the Seminole Tribe of Florida."

Challenges permitted

Harrison said institutions affected by the policy can try to change it through the NCAA's governing structure.

In the meantime, schools such as the University of Utah, where the Utes are scheduled to host the first and second rounds of the 2006 men's NCAA basketball tournament, are responsible for avoiding any references to Indian tribes.

The NCAA restriction includes symbols such as spears or tomahawks on helmets and any American Indian references during pregame and halftime shows.

It does not affect football teams in the Bowl Championship Series, which is not sponsored by the NCAA.

The decision had officials at Illinois, where Chief Illiniwek has performed his halftime dance since 1926, scrambling to figure out how they would be affected.

University spokesman Thomas Hardy said any policy regarding the mascot comes from the board of trustees.

The main concern, he said, is whether the school will be able to host championships.

"A lot of what the NCAA talked about, the University of Illinois is already in compliance with," Hardy said. "The team uniform says `Illinois' on it. It doesn't have a chief or a logo on it.

"The biggest impact this would have on this institution and others is if we have a tradition called Chief Illiniwek, and a team name like Fighting Illini, would that preclude us from hosting a postseason NCAA championship in the future? Our board needs to examine that more closely before I make any policy changes."

Not all schools with Indian-related nicknames are on the list. Some, including the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Eastern Connecticut State University, which both use the nickname Warriors, will not face sanctions because those nicknames are not considered "hostile or abusive."

NCAA President Myles Brand said the University of North Carolina at Pembroke Braves will not face sanctions because the college's student body has a high proportion, more than 20 percent, of American Indian students.

In a detailed 22-page report in April, Central Michigan University defended to the NCAA its use of the nickname Chippewas, which refers to a Saginaw tribe that is part of Mount Pleasant, the community where the college is situated.

The tribe has expressed its support for the school's use of its name.

`Rich relationship'

"The rich relationship that the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe has with CMU cannot be determined by an outside entity without contacting the institution and the government involved," Joseph Sowmick, a Saginaw spokesman, said in a statement.

"Any arbitrary decision made from an outside source regarding university-tribal relations is not acceptable, and certainly the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe would welcome a dialogue to discuss this further."

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