The National Collegiate Athletic Association does not control or manage the Bowl Championship Series, the set of bowl games through which the nation's big-time college football programs crown their champion. So when the association announced a crackdown last month on sports teams' use of Native American nicknames, mascots and other imagery in NCAA championships, football teams in the association's top playing level, Division I-A, were expressly omitted.
But while the NCAA does not oversee the Bowl Championship Series, which is governed by a coalition of the major football-playing conferences, the association does have the authority to license the Division I-A bowl games that serve as the basis for the championship series. And on Tuesday, the association announced that it would require bowl games to comply with the NCAA’s "principles for the conduct of intercollegiate athletics" in the NCAA's constitution, which "contains basic principles for the value of cultural diversity and forms the basis for the mascot policy."
Bob Williams, the NCAA's managing director of public and media affairs, said in an interview Tuesday that the beginning next spring, the agreements that all bowl games sign as part of the licensure process would include a criterion saying that "they will follow the policy" of not letting participating teams display Native American mascots or nicknames. The NCAA policy does not bar teams with Native American mascots or names from participating in its tournaments, but it restricts participating teams (and their bands and cheerleaders) from displayingthe offending name or imagery.
Williams said that the NCAA acted after officials of the Bowl Championship Series wrote a letter asking the association to limit the participation of colleges that use Native American imagery in BCS bowl games. "They basically had indicated to us that they didn't have the infrastructure or policy to do it, and asked us to look at it and take appropriate action," Williams said.
Officials from the Bowl Championship Series and other bowl games did not respond to requests for comment.
Because some of the most visible Division I-A sports programs that the NCAA originally cited for having "hostile and abusive" names -- including Florida State University and the University of Utah -- have since won appeals that dropped them from the list, the NCAA's decision to apply the new rules to bowl games will have relatively little impact on highly visible teams or bowl games.
Still, at least three Division I-A universities -- Illinois, Arkansas State University and the University of Louisiana at Monroe -- remain on the NCAA's list of institutions whose mascots or names it deems offensive, and the NCAA's policy suggests that they are unlikely to be able to participate in bowl games unless they change their names or succeed in appealing their inclusion on the NCAA's list.