NCAA gets it politically right, but all wrong

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 14, 2005

Having not done anything silly or meaningless in at least two or three weeks, the NCAA issued a proclamation Friday, announcing that 18 member schools that use nicknames considered "hostile" or "abusive" would be banned from hosting or taking part in postseason competition beginning Feb. 1.

The affected schools would be welcome only if they stopped using the nicknames or offensive images during the tournaments or if they covered up all mention of them in the host arenas.

The ruling targets schools that use nicknames referring to Native American tribes or the more generic "Indians," "Braves" and "Savages" of the collegiate world.

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Division I football, specifically the Bowl Championship Series, is unaffected by the NCAA’s attempt to legislate political correctness because the NCAA lost control of football a long time ago, although it rarely cares to admit that publicly.

Regardless, if you are a fan of the Catawba College Indians or the University of Utah Utes or the University of Illinois Fighting Illini, it is time, apparently, to smoke the peace pipe and whatever else you might have handy to calm yourself down.

There has been predictable reaction to the announcement on both sides of the aisle, and it is redundant to observe here that indigenous tribes deserve a better fate than to be reduced to cartoon characters. What the NCAA has ignored in its rush to be oh-so-correct is that most of the nicknames are used as nods to local history and as means of keeping that history alive.

Maybe the NCAA would prefer a vanilla world of Falcons, Cougars, Eagles and Lions, but that isn’t the real world.

The biggest furor at the moment is taking place at Florida State University, which has long had the blessing and support of the Seminoles of their state to use Seminoles as its nickname.

"We are repeating history," Max Osceola, a member of the tribal council, told the Miami Herald, talking about the NCAA decree. "Non-Indians are telling Indians what is good for them."

The NCAA is going to be faced with more than just one lawsuit and might have a difficult time defending its position.

Other schools could argue - maybe successfully - that their nicknames are no more offensive than those of the Gettysburg Bullets, the North Carolina Wesleyan Battling Bishops, the Union College Dutchmen, the Mississippi Rebels or those pillaging Idaho Vandals. And don’t forget the Fighting Irish, of course.

It will be an interesting time as the NCAA peers down from its high-and-mighty perch. The air is thin up there, and maybe that is what affects the organization’s ability to think things through. No one likes persecution, after all, and that is a lesson as old as history.

Bob Ford is a sports columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.