Illinois loses mascot appeal

Saturday, April 29, 2006

PEORIA, Ill. -- The NCAA's executive committee on Friday rejected an appeal by the University of Illinois to continue using its Chief Illiniwek mascot without penalty but removed Bradley from a list of schools with American Indian imagery the organization deems "hostile" and "abusive."

The ruling means Illinois will not be allowed to host NCAA championship events unless the school drops its long-debated Indian mascot, a buckskin-clad fixture at the Urbana-Champaign campus since 1926.

School officials said they will consider a lawsuit to challenge the ruling, which has already fueled renewed calls to scrap a mascot that supporters call a symbol of honor but opponents contend is nothing more than an insensitive stereotype.

"We hope the university will actually take this seriously and see this is something they need to be responsive to," said Jen Tayabji, a spokeswoman for a student group opposing the Chief, the Progressive Resource/Action Cooperative.

The ruling puts the university "between a rock and a hard place," forcing its board of trustees to decide between tradition or losing postseason events that aid recruiting and help maintain competitive athletic programs, university spokesman Tom Hardy said.

Bradley was the only school to win its appeal Friday to move off a list of schools with banned nicknames, first announced by the NCAA eight months ago. Along with Illinois, the executive committee also rejected appeals by North Dakota and Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

The committee noted that Bradley dropped its Indian mascot and logos more than a decade ago and now uses only the generic nickname Braves. The committee also said the Peoria school has demonstrated its ability to provide an environment of diversity, respect and sportsmanship.

Bradley will be placed on an NCAA watch list for five years "to assure that circumstances don't change," according to a written statement from the NCAA. Bradley is the first school in the nation to earn that distinction.

"This has been a long process for us and this is the right outcome," said Bradley president David Broski. "As far as I'm concerned, common sense prevailed ... I'm very confident the five-year period will come and go with us retaining the term Braves."

Illinois officials say losing a chance to host postseason events will make it difficult to recruit top student-athletes and coaches, hurting the school athletic programs.

Hardy said the school has hosted NCAA championship events in eight different men's and women's sports, including early rounds of the NCAA tennis tournament for the last eight years.

"They're important in terms of competitiveness and prestige for the program ... and that helps recruit the top athletes and coaches," Hardy said.

In November, the university persuaded the NCAA to drop "Illini" and "Fighting Illini" from its list of banned nicknames, but appealed again in January after the NCAA said it still found Chief Illiniwek hostile and abusive. Friday's ruling exhausted the school's appeals to the NCAA.

Illinois board of trustees chairman Lawrence Eppley scolded the NCAA for "dictating social policy" and usurping the board's autonomy to reach its own conclusion on Chief Illiniwek.

"By branding an 80-year tradition 'hostile and abusive,' the NCAA inappropriately defames generations of Illinoisans and University of Illinois supporters," Eppley said in a written statement.

NCAA president Myles Brand defended the ruling, saying the organization "has a responsibility to make sure its events are treated with respect for all and making sure that the environment is fully respectful."

Illiniwek's existence has been a source of contention for more than a decade and numerous studies by the university's board of trustees have yielded no resolution to the controversy.

What's in a name?

An update on the 19 schools, with nicknames in parentheses, that have appeared on the NCAA's list of offenders for the use of Indian nicknames, mascots or imagery. (Southeast Missouri State changed its nickname in from Indians and Otahkians to Redhawks in the 2004-05 school year, just prior to the NCAA action.)

Subject to restrictions

* Alcorn State (Braves)

* Arkansas State (Indians)

* University of Illinois (Fighting Illini), mascot appeal rejected.

* Indiana University-Pennsylvania (Indians), appeal rejected.

* Newberry College (Indians), appeal pending before executive committee.

* University of North Dakota (Fighting Sioux), appeal rejected.

Removed from list

* Central Michigan (Chippewas), won appeal.

* Florida State (Seminoles), won appeal.

* Mississippi College (Choctaws), won appeal.

* University of Utah (Utes), won appeal.

Changed/changing nicknames (former nickname in parentheses)

* Carthage College (Red Men), changing nickname.

* Chowan College (Braves), changing nickname and mascot.

* University of Louisiana-Monroe (Indians), changing nickname and mascot.

* Midwestern State University (Indians), changing nickname.

* Southeastern Oklahoma State (Savages), changed nickname to Savage Storm.

Placed on watch list

* Bradley (Braves), NCAA will monitor use of nickname and imagery for five years.

Pending NCAA staff review

* Catawba College (Indians)

* McMurry University (Indians)

* William and Mary (The Tribe)

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