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From the Archives: N.C.A.A. Nonsense

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Last Wednesday evening, I exhumed and republished a previously posted article from my old weblog, Kyle on Football, which was the forerunner of Dawg Sports.

What were the main differences between Kyle on Football and Dawg Sports? Well, my old weblog was harder to read and it featured fewer pictures of Kristin Davis.

Now I offer the second in a continuing series of pieces that current Dawg Sports readers may not have seen before. The following originally appeared on the internet on August 12, 2005 and it concerned the latest in an ongoing series of asinine N.C.A.A. rulings:

We interrupt this build-up to college football season to report the breaking news that the N.C.A.A., in its ongoing effort to enact even more asinine rules than the U.S. Congress, has reached a new level of stupidity.

I am speaking, of course, of the newly-enacted N.C.A.A. policy penalizing teams with American Indian mascots. Beginning in February, 18 teams (including Florida State, Illinois, and Utah) will be prohibited from displaying nicknames such as "Seminoles" and related logos at postseason events. Mascots like Chief Osceola will be outlawed at bowl games and, beginning in 2008, members of the marching band and the cheerleading squad will be banned from incorporating the nicknames and logos into their uniforms, as well.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush has responded with justified indignation. He is quoted in news reports as having said, "I think it's offensive to native Americans. . . . [T]he Seminole Indian tribe who support the traditions of F.S.U., I think they insult those people by telling them, 'No, no, you're not smart enough to understand this. You should be feeling really horrible about this.' It's ridiculous. . . . How politically correct can we get? The folks that make these decisions need to get out more often. . . . You know what they ought to be worried about? The graduation rates of most college athletes. Maybe if they had some suggestions on that, that universities could apply and could implement, they could be doing a service to all of us."

I thought it was bad enough when the N.C.A.A. recently imposed a limitation on the number of pages a school could include in its football media guide, but this is absurd. Political correctness is motivated by the fear of appearing insensitive to the hypersensitive and Governor Bush is exactly right that the N.C.A.A. is being incredibly condescending when it tells the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which long has supported the Florida State athletic teams, what it ought to find offensive.

All too often, the insult is in the eye of the beholder. Among the 18 institutions declared by the N.C.A.A. to be off the reservation (if you will pardon the expression) is Mississippi College, whose Choctaw nickname was deemed beyond the pale. Elsewhere in the Magnolia State, the University of Mississippi employs the nickname "Rebels," which was used as a derogatory term by Abraham Lincoln, among others. (Viewing it from the opposite side of the Mason-Dixon line, I know a few folks for whom the New York American League baseball club's nickname is not a term of endearment.)

Two institutions in Indiana (Purdue University and Indiana University) use nicknames---"Boilermakers" and "Hoosiers," respectively---which once were applied derisively. If actual Seminole Indians in North Florida are not troubled by the Florida State University mascot, the N.C.A.A. should drop the condescension involved in presuming paternalistically to be offended on behalf of a minority that does not deem itself demeaned. There simply is no comparison between F.S.U.'s nickname and, say, the Washington N.F.L. team's nickname; the problem in college football is not that anyone is being called a "Redskin," the problem is that the N.C.A.A. is being thin-skinned.

Let's assume, though, that this hand-wringing policy prescription isn't just a publicity stunt addressing a non-issue. Let's take the N.C.A.A. at its word and assume that this ruling is sincerely based upon good intentions and reasonable principles. The powers that be in college football should at least apply the new rule consistently and fairly, but they aren't doing so.

According to news reports, teams using the nickname "Warriors" will only be affected if they use native symbols; nevertheless, I noticed that the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors were not among the 18 pariah teams, despite the fact that a mascot clad in the regalia of an indigenous islander has been known to prowl the sidelines in Honolulu.

North Carolina-Pembroke will not be sanctioned for using the nickname "Braves" because the school's student body historically has included a large number of American Indians. However, I have it on good authority (from Sooner State native Brad Rice) that Southeastern Oklahoma State University also has a large American Indian student population, yet Southeastern Oklahoma State's nickname ("Savages") was not spared.

Speaking of Bradleys, Bradley University stopped using the nickname "Braves" in 1993, attempted to substitute a "Bradley Bobcat," and, ultimately, went without a mascot in 2000, but to no avail: Bradley University was condemned by the National Collegiate Thought Police, despite its valiant efforts.

The Central Michigan Chippewas were among the teams singled out by the N.C.A.A., but the San Diego State Aztecs were not. The North Dakota Fighting Sioux were considered out of bounds, but not the Michigan State Spartans. Among Sun Belt Conference squads, the Louisiana-Monroe Indians were denounced, yet the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns are perfectly acceptable. It's all right to be an Idaho Vandal, but not a Utah Ute. William & Mary can form a Tribe, yet Catawba College can't be the Indians. Neither can Midwestern State, though nary a word is said to castigate the Portland State Vikings or the Penn Quakers for the inappropriately appropriative nature of their nomenclature.

"Brave"---which (like "Chief," the nickname of the Kansas City professional football team) is a title within an established social hierarchy---has been judged unacceptable for Alcorn State University and Chowan College. Meanwhile, the use of titles denoting rank within a particular organizational structure remains perfectly legitimate if you are a Cadet (Army), a Cavalier (Virginia), a Commodore (Vanderbilt), a Deacon (Wake Forest), a Duke (Duquesne and James Madison), a Knight (Central Florida and Rutgers), a Midshipman (Navy), or a Minuteman (Massachusetts). Given the uniformly positive connotation of the adjectival form of the noun "Brave," one wonders what other aspects of the Scout Law the N.C.A.A. would view with disdain.  How about the Alcorn State Friendlies, the Bradley Courteouses, or the Chowan College Cheerfuls?

Is it even possible to argue with a straight face that this ruling is anything other than arbitrary? What's the statute of limitations on a college athletic department's ability to borrow the name of an historic group with a distinctive culture? Could a team call itself the Visigoths, the Philistines, the Huns, the Assyrians, or the Carthaginians? Should the Southern Cal Trojans be worried that their mascot will be the next to go?

If the concern is that we don't want sports to promote negative stereotypes of particular groups, shouldn't the N.C.A.A. cast a wider net? For example, a large part of my ancestry is Irish, so I find myself wondering why, if the University of Illinois is to be penalized for calling its sports teams "the Fighting Illini," the University of Notre Dame shouldn't also be penalized for calling its sports teams "the Fighting Irish."

Both nicknames reinforce exactly the same prejudice---that Illini Indians and Irishmen are violent by nature---and, since Notre Dame is the only school to have its own T.V. contract, there can be little question that its mascot is significantly more visible (and, hence, significantly more harmful) than Illinois's. If Chief Illiniwek is a mascot offensive to American Indians, that preposterous leprechaun on the sidelines in South Bend ought to be judged equally obnoxious to those of us who trace our heritage back to the Emerald Isle. Where is the N.C.A.A.'s concern about the possibility that the Gold Domers have hurt my feelings?

When Notre Dame is forbidden from reinforcing the stereotype that people of Irish descent are combative and pugnacious, I'll take this policy seriously. In the meantime, I will direct my combativeness and pugnacity at the bed-wetting nannies of the N.C.A.A., who need to grow up and find something else about which to worry.

Be sure to look for another vintage posting from Kyle on Football in the days ahead as the countdown to college football season begins to pick up steam.

Go 'Dawgs!