UI submits second appeal to NCAA

UI submits second appeal to NCAA

INDIANAPOLIS – The University of Illinois has filed a second appeal of the NCAA policy on the use of American Indian imagery, effectively delaying any sanctions against the UI for its use of the Chief Illiniwek symbol for several months.

The appeal was sent to the NCAA Executive Committee late Monday.

The UI appealed the NCAA policy to a review committee last fall. That committee ruled in November that the name "Fighting Illini" was acceptable, but Chief Illiniwek was not.

The latest appeal concerns the name Chief Illiniwek, the Chief logo and the Chief Illiniwek performance.

"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 events by its student-athletes," the appeal states.

The appeal is in the form of a 15-page letter signed by UI Board of Trustees Chairman Larry Eppley. It reiterates the arguments made in the first appeal that the NCAA committee exceeded its authority and ignored contradictory evidence, but it does so in greater detail. The UI also argues that the NCAA is the wrong organization to rule on Chief Illiniwek, and the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has jurisdiction over whether the Chief's presence violates any laws.

The NCAA's policy against the use of American Indian nicknames, mascots or imagery goes into effect Wednesday. The policy, adopted last August, forbids schools using "hostile or abusive" imagery from hosting postseason competitions or displaying the nicknames, logos or mascots at those events.

The UI argues the NCAA Executive Committee didn't have the power to enact legislation and that it violated institutional autonomy.

"The NCAA has essentially superimposed its policymaking authority over that of the university," the appeal says.

It also argues that applying the policy to the UI was arbitrary and capricious because the NCAA never defined the terms "hostile" or "abusive," or stated how a determination was made to include various universities in that categorization.

The UI argues the NCAA ignored a 1995 Office of Civil Rights finding that the presence of Chief Illiniwek did not constitute a racially hostile environment. That agency made a factual investigation, unlike the NCAA, and is the proper one to enforce prohibitions against racial discrimination, according to the appeal.

It also notes a suit against the UI by the Illinois Native American Bar Association, alleging a violation of the Illinois Civil Rights Act, was dismissed.

"The NCAA did not conduct any thorough fact finding necessary to support its 'hostile and abusive' conclusions about our names and our Chief Illiniwek tradition," the appeal states. "It strains credulity for the (review committee) to rely upon 'media accounts, letters and email' to support the NCAA's alleged 'finding' that the Chief Illiniwek tradition has created a hostile and abusive environment."

The UI asked for a stay of enforcement of the policy until May 15, the end of the academic year.

NCAA officials have previously said sanctions will be delayed until at least April 27, the next time the NCAA Executive Committee meets, for those schools that have appeals filed by Feb. 1.

In addition to the UI, three other schools have pending appeals – Bradley University, the University of North Dakota and Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

The delay doesn't have much practical effect for the UI, as most tournament sites have already been selected. Chief Illiniwek performances for the rest of the basketball season won't be affected.

The UI also said in its appeal that if the NCAA retains its policy, it should not regulate the existence of American Indian imagery, only its display at championship events.

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