Bill to prevent NCAA's power to crack down on mascots and nicknames

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon May 8 13:21:25 UTC 2006 Monday, May 8, 2006

Bill Introduced in Congress Would Limit NCAA's Power to Enforce Penalties

Lawmakers from states where university athletics-team mascots have caused
controversy have introduced legislation in Congress that would limit the
ability of the National Collegiate Athletic Association to crack down on
colleges with offensive American Indian mascots and nicknames. The bill
would also allow colleges to sue the association if it punishes them for
violations of its mascot policy. The speaker of the U.S. House of
Representatives, Rep. J. Dennis Hastert, and a fellow Illinois Republican,
Rep. Timothy V. Johnson, introduced the bill, known as the Protection of
University Governance Act (HR 5289), last week. The bill's other
cosponsors are Rep. Dan Boren, of Oklahoma; Rep.  Allen Boyd, of Florida;
and Jerry F. Costello of Illinois, all Democrats. "The NCAA was
established as a sports-management association," Mr. Johnson said in a
statement posted on his Web site. "The organization has since assumed the
mantle of social arbiters. They need to go back to scheduling ballgames
and leave the social engineering to others."

NCAA officials were not available for comment on the proposed legislation
over the weekend. The legislation's introduction came roughly one week
after the NCAA denied appeals that three institutions -- Indiana
University of Pennsylvania, the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign, and the University of North Dakota -- had submitted to
oppose sanctions they faced for their American Indian logos and nicknames
(The Chronicle, May 1). Under the sanctions, the University of North
Dakota cannot use its "Fighting Sioux" nickname or logo on team uniforms
in postseason play and cannot serve as host for any postseason
competitions, according to Don Kojich, a university spokesman.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's mascot, Chief Illiniwek,
does not travel to away games, and his image does not appear on team
uniforms, said Thomas Hardy, a university spokesman. Therefore, the
sanction against holding NCAA championships is the only one that applies
to his institution, he said. Both spokesmen said that their universities
had exhausted their appeals to the association and that litigation against
the NCAA was an option.  Neither said he knew much about the legislation
or whether it would help his institution. "On the surface, it's something
that could be beneficial," Mr. Kojich said. A few institutions in states
represented by the bill's cosponsors have escaped NCAA penalties after
facing sanctions initially.

Florida State University had been on a list of 18 institutions whose
mascots and nicknames were considered "hostile and abusive" when the NCAA
issued its policy last August (The Chronicle, August 5, 2005). But the
NCAA later removed Florida State from the list because it could show that
the Seminole tribe of Florida had approved the university's use of the
"Seminoles" nickname (The Chronicle, August 24, 2005). Other institutions
have been removed from the list for similar reasons, and one, Bradley
University, in Illinois, has won an appeal to the association. Some
institutions that faced sanctions have adopted new nicknames. For
instance, in January, Southeastern Oklahoma State University changed the
name of its team from "Savages" to "Savage Storm."

According to the statement posted on Representative Johnson's Web site,
the bill would limit the NCAA's ability to impose sanctions on colleges
"by reason of a team name, symbol, emblem or mascot" and would allow
colleges penalized for such reasons to sue the organization and get court
orders to stop such action. "Any attempt by an entity that regulates
intercollegiate sports activities to impose its view of correct social
policy on institutions of higher education participating in such
activities is inimical to the traditions of higher education in America
and is inconsistent with university governance and academic freedom," the
statement quotes the proposed legislation as saying. "Attempts to regulate
institutions in this manner detract from the diversity of America and the
independence of thought and spirit that are the essence of higher
education in this nation." Mr. Johnson also hailed the bill's
bipartisanship. "This is not a Republican grievance or a Democratic
grievance," he said. "The NCAA's presumed authority is a grievance against
us all."

Copyright  2006 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

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