The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) issued a final ruling April 28 against the UI’s continuing use of Chief Illiniwek. Absent a change in this 80-year-old tradition, the NCAA will prohibit the school from hosting NCAA championship events.
Athletic Director Run Guenther recently commented on the potential sanction: “One of the components of the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics’ mission statement is to compete at the highest levels for Big Ten and national championships. The department has invested large amounts of resources in facilities, scholarships and coaches in our Olympic sports. The inability to host NCAA championship competition would have an unbelievably negative effect on our programs.” It is believed a ban on hosting NCAA championship events would put Illini athletes at a competitive disadvantage and make it hard to recruit top student athletes and coaches.
The NCAA issued its policy banning American Indian imagery last August. The university challenged the policy and the rhetoric attached to it.
In the first round of appeals, the university won back the right to use the names “Illini” and “Fighting Illini” for all its athletic teams. Subsequent appeals continued to disagree with the NCAA on the allegation that the Chief tradition creates a “hostile and abusive” environment, matters of institutional autonomy and a flawed policy process.
“Our decision is final,” declared NCAA Executive Committee chair Walter Harrison in making the April 28 announcement.
“By branding an 80-year tradition ‘hostile and abusive,’ the NCAA inappropriately defames generations of Illinoisans and University of Illinois supporters,” said Lawrence C. Eppley, chair of the UI Board of Trustees.
“The University of Illinois is disappointed by the NCAA Executive Committee’s final decision to uphold a policy that is capricious in its design and implementation,” Eppley said. “The NCAA’s insistence on dictating social policy for a few select member institutions intrudes on the University of Illinois Board of Trustees’ autonomy and the board’s process for reaching a consensus conclusion on issues regarding the Chief Illiniwek tradition. In determining a course to follow, we will consider our options in the context of the NCAA’s final pronouncement and the consensus process guidelines adopted by the board.”