NCAA nixes ‘hostile’ names

Matt Perkins

NCAA championships are about to change – or at least the names of the teams participating in them are.

Some of the most popular and successful teams in college sports are at the center of an ongoing controversy that reached new heights last week.

The NCAA Executive Committee issued a policy Friday that prohibits colleges and universities from “displaying hostile and abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery” at all 88 NCAA championships. Specifically, the policy is aimed at American Indian representations.

But the policy will not cover regular season play, which has caused a continued uproar from some tribes that have headed up a campaign to ban certain NCAA nicknames completely.

On the other side, the announcement is cause for complaint from certain teams, such as the Florida State Seminoles, who have the support of local tribes to continue using their nicknames.

At the root of the decision, which some call a compromise, is the fact that what might be offensive to some isn’t to others, and vice versa.

“It has to be on an individual, case-by-case basis,” Minnesota Athletics Director Joel Maturi said. “But you have to be sensitive to that issue. It’s all about where you draw the line and what is the intention of it.”

Eighteen schools will be affected by the policy, including Florida State, Illinois’ Fighting Illini, North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux and Utah’s Utes, among others.

Florida State has revealed that the Seminole Tribe of Florida is supporting the school’s case to keep the mascot. Conversely, several Sioux tribes in North Dakota have rallied and petitioned against the school’s mascot.

And come the beginning of the spring championship season in March – the policy begins taking effect Feb. 1, 2006, with full prohibition set for Feb. 1, 2008 – the focus on Illinois might shift from its athletic success to its struggle with the new policy.

The nickname “Fighting Illini” might cause some to take offense, but Illinois mascot Chief Illiniwek is the source of the most controversy.

Dressed in regalia given to the school by Sioux Chief Frank Fools Crow in 1982 during a halftime ceremony of an Illini football game, the school’s mascot gets the crowd going with a dance some believe shouldn’t be performed for entertainment purposes. The dance is mirrored after a sacred American Indian dance that some believe should only be performed for ceremonial purposes.

Now it might have stirred up as much controversy as school spirit over the years, and the NCAA’s latest step is in more of a politically correct direction, said Bryan Alkemeyer, co-coordinator of the Progressive Resource/Action Cooperative, an “anti-Chief” activist group based in Champaign, Ill.

“We’re really pleased with the NCAA decision,” Alkemeyer said. “We’re hoping they continue to evaluate race-based mascots in sports and possibly even take a stronger stance in the future.”

As of now, it seems nobody is completely happy with the policy, but all sides are left trying to sift through its vague definition of “hostile and abusive.”

The one thing that’s certain is that it’s all part of a process.

“We have to learn more about the NCAA’s policy,” said Thomas Hardy, University of Illinois executive director for university relations. “We need to take some time and figure out some of the ambiguities in the policy. Then we can determine where we go from there.”