Johnson reintroduces NCAA bill

Johnson reintroduces NCAA bill

URBANA – A bill allowing universities to sue the NCAA if they're sanctioned for having American Indian mascots has been reintroduced by U.S. Rep. Timothy Johnson, R-Urbana.

The measure, known as "The Protection of University Governance Act," would allow the University of Illinois or any other university to sue the NCAA and seek damages for lost revenue if it were barred from hosting a championship game.

Johnson originally introduced the bill last year in response to the NCAA's ruling that Chief Illiniwek was "hostile or abusive" and therefore violated a policy prohibiting schools with such mascots or symbols from hosting postseason competition.

After an appeal by the UI, the NCAA agreed that the names "Illini" and "Fighting Illini" were acceptable but kept the UI on a sanctioned list because of Chief Illiniwek.

The university appealed again, arguing the NCAA exceeded its authority, violated the university's institutional autonomy and applied its policy arbitrarily because other schools were allowed to keep their American Indian mascots if they had approval from the tribe.

The NCAA rejected that appeal, and the UI opted not to pursue the issue in court.

UI trustees took final action to eliminate Chief Illiniwek this week, approving a resolution ending the Chief's dance and dissociating any American Indian imagery from the university and its athletic programs.

After conferring with other cosponsors, Johnson decided to reintroduce the bill in the new Congress, spokesman Phil Bloomer said Thursday.

HR 1316 would give universities a right to sue "entities that improperly regulate intercollegiate sports activities."

It defines as improper any penalty imposed on an intercollegiate athletic program by the NCAA because of a team name, symbol, emblem or mascot.

Johnson, a Chief supporter, has said the legislation's intent is to protect local autonomy. He wants the NCAA to let universities make their own decisions about symbols and mascots.

"Whether it's an issue or not for the University of Illinois, the legislation and the intent behind the legislation is still valid for all the other universities that are facing this decision by the NCAA," Bloomer said.

Bloomer said he couldn't predict what the bill's chances would be in the new Democratic Congress.

"If people would care to set aside their emotions and look at it rationally, I think it has great chances," he said.

The eight co-sponsors include Illinois representatives Dennis Hastert, Ray LaHood, Jerry Costello and John Shimkus.