Friday, June 16, 2006

Down to the last feather 

The NCAA's hunt for inappropriate logos and mascots has reached the College of William and Mary.
An NCAA staff committee ruled that William and Mary�s �Tribe� nickname was neither hostile nor abusive, but it censured the College�s athletic logo. If the NCAA decision stands, William and Mary may be prohibited from hosting NCAA-sponsored post-season games and from using the image in NCAA-sanctioned post-season play.
As you can see through this link, the logo for the W&M Tribe includes two feathers. Gene Nichol, the university's president, writes to the NCAA:
Present NCAA determinations of mascot policy�what is allowed and what is forbidden�are neither comprehensible nor capable of being sensibly defended. I�m guessing that members of the committee may realize this is so. An interpretation that penalizes the College of William & Mary while embracing the depiction of a brave on horseback, in war paint, plunging a flaming spear into the turf at midfield, to the delight of 85,000 chanting, tomahawking fans, is, at best, enigmatic.

There are costs associated with leaving logic behind when enforcing important standards. The first, perhaps, is cynicism. Having now spoken to many hundreds about the NCAA�s position, I can report that it is beyond difficult to find any who believe the organization is being serious and transparent in applying its guidelines. That cannot be good for collegiate athletics.

Beyond that, when rules are made to stand upon their heads, it apparently becomes permissible to contemplate levying heavy sanctions against a university that, according to your own Academic Performance standards, ranks fifth in the nation in scholastic attainment and graduates 95% of its scholarship athletes and 100% of its football team. Few will understand why the College�where athletes regularly don Phi Beta Kappa keys at commencement, gain admission to competitive graduate and professional programs in unusually high numbers, and avoid the corrupting misconduct that too often mars university sports programs elsewhere�has made it to the top of the NCAA�s regulatory agenda.
The appeal makes an interesting point that the NCAA admits using a "rebuttable presumption that the use of Native American mascots, names and/or imagery� will be found to create a hostile or abusive environment. Moreover, the only defense that has worked to date has been approval by an affiliated tribe for a specific name of that tribe (Seminole, Ute, or Chippewa). Thus there's no defense for a generic reference to 'brave' or 'tribe'.