The Utes might be safe, after all.
Two weeks after listing the University of Utah among 18 schools facing sanctions for using "hostile and abusive" nicknames, mascots or imagery to represent their athletic teams, the NCAA said Friday that approval from American Indian tribes will be a "primary factor" in deciding appeals from the offending schools.
"It always seemed highly logical to look at particular schools and if the tribes supported us and we used their names in a careful, dignified way," university president Michael Young said. "It seemed like a bizarre rule, and I'm glad they're clarifying it."
The Utes have not formally appealed, but Young said they expect to do so in the next week or two.
When they do, the Utes will again argue what they told the NCAA in a self-evaluation on the subject last year - that they do not use an American Indian mascot, and that they use the nickname "Utes" and their "drum-and-feather" logo in a respectful way with the approval of the Ute Tribe.
"We have a very powerful argument," Young said.
If an appeal is accepted, the
Utes would be exempt from the new policy, which will ban the use of American Indian nicknames and imagery from all NCAA postseason tournaments, starting in February, and prohibit schools that use such symbols from being hosts of NCAA events.
Major college football will not be affected, though, because its postseason bowl system is not under the jurisdiction of the NCAA.
Being subject to the policy could force the Utes to change their nickname, if only so they could continue their tradition of being hosts to NCAA events. But the university does not believe that will happen.
"We want to make sure we go in with everything in order," Young said, "and we'll win."
The NCAA stirred much controversy with its new policy - especially at Florida State, where the university president threatened legal action to keep "Seminoles" from being banned. Florida State uses the name and a Seminole mascot with the permission of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
"We recognize that there are many points of view associated with this issue and we also know that some Native American groups support the use of mascots and imagery and some do not," NCAA president Myles Brand said in a statement. "That is why we will pay particular attention to special circumstances associated with each institution."
Reviews will begin next week, the NCAA said, and the FSU appeal is expected to be the first one considered. Florida State is the only school that has submitted an official appeal, spokesman Erik Christianson said, though several other schools have been in communication with the organization about the policy.
Appeals will be reviewed by an NCAA staff committee led by Bernard Franklin, the organization's senior vice president for governance and membership. Christianson said the NCAA hopes the appeals process will take weeks, not months.
"It is vitally important that we maintain a balance between the interests of a particular Native American tribe and the NCAA's responsibility to ensure an atmosphere of respect and sensitivity for all who attend and participate in our championships," Brand said.