U of I appeals NCAA Chief Illiniwek ruling

CHICAGO—The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) recently filed an appeal of a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) policy that prohibits the Urbana-Champaign campus from hosting post-season NCAA championship competition because of the 80-year-old Chief Illiniwek tradition.

The appeal was submitted Tuesday to the Executive Committee of the Indianapolis-based NCAA, and it requests a stay in enforcement of the contested policy until the academic year ends in May.

The appeal states: “This appeal is about the institutional autonomy of NCAA member schools. It is about flawed rules and process. It is about the association of member schools exceeding its charter. It is about a policy that asks a member institution to decide between abandoning an 80-year-old tradition cherished by many or face diminished participation in NCAA championship sports by its student athletes.”

And the appeal notes with approval the NCAA’s concurrence with the University’s argument in support of, and the NCAA’s acceptance of, the names Illini and Fighting Illini for the school’s athletic teams. It states: “The NCAA’s reversal of its earlier position in regard to the names provided solace to hundreds of thousands of students, alumni and friends of the University who proudly call themselves Illini in a positive association with the largest public university in the state of Illinois.”

The new policy regarding uses of American Indian imagery by NCAA membership institutions was scheduled to go into effect Feb. 1, 2006, but the NCAA has indicated it will stay enforcement for colleges and universities with appeals pending.

Performances by Chief Illiniwek for the remainder of the men’s and women’s basketball season are not affected.

The appeal was made in a 15-page letter signed by University of Illinois Board of Trustees Chairman Lawrence C. Eppley on behalf of the Board and the Urbana-Champaign campus. The Board of Trustees is engaged in a process aimed at reaching a consensus conclusion to issues regarding the Chief Illiniwek tradition.

The UIUC appeal reiterates and reinforces arguments made previously by the university, as well as other affected institutions, about what UIUC considers a flawed NCAA process that resulted in a policy that violates the principle of institutional autonomy. The appeal cites numerous examples of case law, several dealing with the NCAA, that support the University’s arguments.

The NCAA policy and a subsequent decision to retain the university on a list of institutions affected by it “violate principles of institutional autonomy and were the product of an arbitrary, flawed process,” the UIUC appeal asserts.

“The NCAA has essentially superimposed its policy-making authority over that of the University,” the appeal argues.

The NCAA Executive Committee announced its new policy about the use of American Indian imagery last Aug. 5, citing 18 member institutions as “hostile and/or abusive” because of nicknames, mascots or other uses of American Indian imagery. UIUC was on the list.

Under the policy, UIUC would be banned from hosting post-season NCAA championship competition, unless it is removed from the list. UIUC filed an initial rebuttal to the policy last Oct. 14. A staff review committee of the NCAA Nov. 11 retained UIUC on the list of institutions subject to the policy, citing the presence of the Chief Illiniwek tradition and the Chief logo. The staff committee determined that the school’s use of the names Illini and Fighting Illini were not reasons for keeping UIUC on the list.

“The University can find no basis within the NCAA’s Division I constitution and bylaws to support the proposition that the Executive Committee had the power to do what it did. … A number of judicial decisions involving the NCAA strongly support the University’s position,” the appeal filed Tuesday states.

The appeal notes that the University is seeking reconsideration from the NCAA’s Executive Committee, the body that established the policy being appealed. “However, the University makes this appeal with the expectation of fairness by the NCAA and in order to exhaust the administrative process as one of the remedies available to the University,” the appeal states.

In recapitulating the consensus conclusion process regarding Chief Illiniwek, the appeal reiterates the point made last October about the Board of Trustees’ “intention to make hard choices.”

“In other words, a change in the status quo regarding the Chief Illiniwek tradition is possible.

“The options are limited only by the parameters established by the university’s board, whose members are deeply familiar and engaged with the issue. The University’s Board of Trustees should be allowed to continue its work unfettered by the NCAA’s policy,” the appeal states.

A copy of the UIUC appeal of the NCAA policy can be found on the University Web site of http://www.uillinois.edu/trustees/index.html under Reports and Dialogues.

From the March 8-14, 2006, issue

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