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NCAA still under fire as schools appeal mascot policy

Florida State University "Seminoles."

The "Fighting Sioux" logo of the University of North Dakota.
Two universities affected by the National Collegiate Athletic Association's new policy on Indian mascots challenged the decision on Friday amid growing controversy.

In separate letters, Florida State University and University of North Dakota questioned the NCAA's ban on Indian mascots, nicknames and symbols during post-season tournaments. Under the policy, both schools would not be allowed to use Indian imagery or host future playoffs if they keep their "hostile and abusive" names.

FSU President T.K. Wetherell took great pains to point out that the Seminole Tribe of Florida supports the "Seminoles" mascot. He also said the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma hasn't condemned it, as previously believed.

To account for the tribes' views, "we suggest the policy be amended to recognize and respect tribal sovereignty and the rights of each tribe to determine whether their names are being used appropriately," Wetherell told the NCAA in the letter. "Therefore, we urge that the Executive Committee ultimately remove from its list all colleges and universities whose 'namesake tribes' have officially supported the use of their name and symbols. In our case, the Seminole Tribe of Florida is our 'namesake tribe.'"

UND President Charles E. Kupchella couldn't cite any Indian support for the "Fighting Sioux" nickname and logo. On the contrary, Sioux tribes in the Great Plains have passed resolutions against the name.

Nevertheless, Kupchella said the school didn't fall under the NCAA's policy. "Help me understand why you think 'hostile and abusive' applies to us," he wrote in his letter. "We have more than 25 separate programs in support of American Indian students here receiving high-end university educations."

The appeals are the first since the NCAA announced its policy on August 5. After two years of debate, the organization concluded that "mascots, nicknames or images deemed hostile or abusive in terms of race, ethnicity or national origin should not be visible at the championship events that we control," said Walter Harrison, the chair of the executive committee and president at the University of Hartford.

Since then, the NCAA has faced a barrage of criticism although support has come from Indian activists like Vernon Bellecourt of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media and tribal organizations like the National Congress of American Indians. But by and large, the schools affected have reacted negatively. Newspaper editorials and columns have overwhelmingly come out against the policy.

In Florida, the debate has taken on an extremely political tone. Gov. Jeb Bush (R), Sen. Mel Martinez (R) and state lawmakers vowed support for a legal battle in support of the "Seminoles." FSU retained an attorney who led George W. Bush's opposition to the 2000 presidential recount in the state.

Elsewhere, the University of Utah is considering an appeal over its "Utes" name, citing the Ute Tribe's support. Central Michigan University is also debating the next step for its "Chippewas" name, which is backed by the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe.

NCAA President Myles Brand has stood by the policy but acknowledged that FSU, and possibly other institutions, might have a solid case to appeal. In an USA Today opinion, he noted that some tribes support the use of Indian mascots, nicknames or symbols.

"At the same time, many individuals and tribes view such uses as disrespectful toward their customs and culture," he added. "They see a level of contempt in the same way African Americans saw black-face minstrel shows decades ago as contempt for their race. We would not think of allowing nicknames or mascots that disrespect African Americans. Surely, American Indians should be accorded the same treatment."

In total, 18 schools are affected by the NCAA policy. Most are located in the Eastern or Midwestern part of the country.

The schools are free to keep using Indian mascots, nicknames and symbols but must covered them during playoffs. The NCAA won't allow the schools to host future tournaments if they retain their names. Previously scheduled games will go on as planned but any reference to Indian themes must be covered up or eliminated, the NCAA said.

Relevant Documents:
FSU Letter | UND Letter | UND Press Conference

NCAA Announcement:
NCAA Executive Committee Issues Guidelines for Use of Native American Mascots at Championship Events (August 5, 2005)

Relevant Links:
NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee -

National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media -
University of North Dakota -
Fighting Sioux -
Florida State University -
FSU Seminoles -
Seminole Tribe of Florida -