Chief Illiniwek's 80th season may be his last

Friday, September 1, 2006

The university considers transfering ownership of the Chief to an alumni group.

CHICAGO -- Chief Illiniwek is likely dancing his last performances at University of Illinois sporting events, according to a published report.

Citing unidentified university sources, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Thursday that the university tentatively plans to drop the controversial American Indian mascot at the end of the upcoming basketball season, leaving open the possibility that the school's teams could host NCAA events in the spring.

However, a university spokesman said Thursday that no decisions have been made regarding Illiniwek's future, which has been the subject of debate for years on the university's flagship Urbana-Champaign campus. The school's Board of Trustees adopted a resolution two years ago that established a process to seek what it terms a "consensus conclusion" regarding the Chief's fate.

"Various possible scenarios have been put forward by everyone from proponents to opponents of the tradition, newspaper columnists and others, but the Board of Trustees continues to work on its consensus conclusion process," said Tom Hardy, the director of university relations.

The NCAA has deemed Illiniwek and his dance a "hostile and abusive" use of American Indian imagery, and Illinois is barred from hosting postseason NCAA events. The athletic association placed Illinois on its list of noncompliant schools last August and has upheld its decision through two university appeals.

According to Thursday's Sun-Times report, the university has tentative plans to transfer ownership of the Chief to an alumni group. That group, known as the Council of Chiefs, is made up of 27 former students who have portrayed the Chief.

A spokesman for the council, Steve Raquel, confirmed Thursday that his group has been in discussions with university officials and representatives of the Board of Trustees about the Chief's future, but he said there have been no formal discussions regarding transferring ownership of the Illiniwek name or image and that no decisions have been made.

"All options are on the table," said Raquel, who was Chief Illiniwek in 1992 and 1993.

The tradition on the Urbana-Champaign campus of having a student dress as Chief Illiniwek began in 1926. Clad in buckskins and headdress, Illiniwek dances at halftimes of home football, basketball and volleyball games on the 39,000-student campus, but does not travel to road games or tournaments.

The university is set to celebrate the 80th anniversary of his first appearance this fall.

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