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Avenue for Appeals

August 22, 2005

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has left the door open -- though perhaps only a crack -- for the 18 institutions it deemed two weeks ago to be using "hostile and abusive" Native American names, mascots or icons.

The NCAA's executive committee on Friday unveiled the process the association will use to consider appeals under the policy it announced two weeks ago aimed at pressuring institutions into abandoning the use of Indian imagery. NCAA officials said the appeals process would treat as a "primary factor" whether "documentation exists that a 'namesake' tribe has formally approved of the use of the mascot, name and imagery by the institution," which several colleges insist that they have. 

But the NCAA suggested, too, that tribal approval might not be enough to overcome what its top official called "the NCAA’s responsibility to ensure an atmosphere of respect and sensitivity for all who attend and participate in our championships." 

Some of the institutions included on the NCAA's original list -- most notably Florida State University -- have argued that their use of Indian imagery is not only tolerated but appreciated by the relevant tribes, and they liked what they heard about the appeals process. 

"We were pleased to learn that the NCAA has established a review process for universities using Native American names and imagery, and that it will consider documentation of approval by our namesake tribe, the Seminole Tribe of Florida," Florida State's president, T.K. Wetherell, said in a prepared statement Friday. "We are hopeful that the NCAA will recognize the sovereignty of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and respect its support of Florida State University's use of the Seminole name."

The August 5 announcement of the NCAA's original policy provoked an uproar that has not faded. After studying the issue for nearly four years, the association announced out of the blue on a Friday afternoon that institutions deemed to have "hostile and abusive" Native American mascots would be unable to play host to NCAA championships and would face restricted participation in postseason play in other ways, too. The association published a list of 18 institutions -- including major sports powers like Florida State and the Universities of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Utah, and smaller institutions like Chowan and Mississippi Colleges -- that it had found to use Native American imagery in "hostile and abusive" ways.

What was unclear then -- much to the consternation of officials at several institutions -- was what criteria the association had used to define what was "hostile and abusive," and to whom; several objected that Indian tribes had approved of their use of the names, and that if the tribal members themselves weren't offended, by what measure were they "hostile and abusive?"
 
On Friday, an NCAA spokesman, Erik Christianson, confirmed that while the NCAA's original review took into account a range of factors, including any evidence the colleges offered of approval by local tribes, the association had concluded that the mere use of a nickname or mascot that was linked to Native American culture earned colleges a place on the "hostile and abusive" list. 

Christianson noted that the executive committee had said all along that it would provide an appeal process, which it outlined Friday. A committee of NCAA staff members, led by Bernard Franklin, the association's senior vice president for governance and membership, will hear the institutions' appeals and decide whether each one should remain subject to the policy, though the executive committee may review those decisions.

"This is a complex issue and the circumstances surrounding each institution’s use of Native American mascots and imagery is different," Franklin said in the NCAA's prepared news release. "Each review will be considered on the unique aspects and circumstances as it relates to the specific use and practice at that college or university."

Christianson said that while approval will be "a primary factor" in the committee's decision, "it won't be the only factor." And Myles Brand, the association's president, suggested that tribal approval alone might not be enough to win an appeal. "It is vitally important," Brand said, "that we maintain a balance between the interests of a particular Native American tribe and the NCAA’s responsibility to ensure an atmosphere of respect and sensitivity for all who attend and participate in our championships."

The appeals process will begin as soon as this week, and depending on how it unfolds, it may not be the last word. Several institutions, including Florida State, have already suggested that they will turn to the courts, if necessary, to keep their mascots and nicknames.

 

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