One month ago, the NCAA issued a rule that Native American mascots and nicknames will no longer be allowed at any NCAA sanctioned playoff or tournament. Earlier this week, the ban was extended to include college football bowl games. While the bowl games are not official NCAA tournaments, they are sanctioned by the NCAA. The BCS worried that it did not have the authority to ban the mascots and therefore appealed to the NCAA to make the decision for them. The NCAA graciously extended the ban.
The real question that should be asked of the NCAA and the BCS is: “Why?” Much debate has already passed on whether the NCAA even has the authority to ask schools to change or not use their mascots in the first place. But even if you grant that they do have this authority, neither the BCS nor the NCAA gains from extending this ban.
Of the four schools which play football at the Division 1-A level, only the University of Illinois has yet to appeal to get the use of their nickname approved for tournaments. The others, the University of Utah, Central Michigan, and Florida State, have all appealed and won after proving that the tribes that their mascots represent have consented to their use and that they have enough programs to support Native Americans in their regions. It will only be a matter of time before the University of Illinois files its appeal and wins. At that point, none of the schools that participate in bowls will be affected because they will have been officially pardoned by the NCAA.
The time and money that went into this decision could obviously have been spent better. Instead of the BCS worrying about this and probably meeting extensively on it, as they do for the precious changes to their formula, couldn’t they have focused the resources elsewhere? And the NCAA, who wants to improve programs for Native Americans and push the NCAA Constitution containing “basic principles for the value of cultural diversity”, could have refrained from needlessly extending their ban to cover the one team currently spared from its existing ban.
Instead, maybe these organizations should look to the example of New Mexico State University. Students Cuyler Frank and Lanell Pahe will be broadcasting tonight’s game against Cal in the native Navajo language. Frank said he wants to “share some of the experiences of New Mexico State students with the Navajo Nation.” This should be the perfect example of how the NCAA, a sporting organization, can improve its relations with the Native American tribes.
Wouldn’t it have been a better idea to require the broadcast of the bowl games in the language of the tribes which are represented by the mascots of the participating teams? If you want to improve relations with the tribes, perhaps the first thing you could do would be to educate the tribes on exactly what their name is being associated with. New Mexico president Michael Martin said of his students, “Their willingness to tackle this challenge and be part of the expanding NMSU Aggie Planet is indicative of the importance we place on reaching all communities.”
Perhaps you will find that there are many budding fans of the program. Perhaps this will inspire some young children to take up sports and maybe attend these universities. Perhaps maybe you will be seen as bringing a sharing of culture between the Native Americans and your member institutions.
Perhaps for once the NCAA and the BCS would be seen as something other than just the “villains.”
Ben Miraski writes about college football and basketball on his website MRISports.com