The House of Representatives is getting involved in the dispute between the NCAA and member institutions over the use of Native American names, logos and mascots.
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Rep. Timothy Johnson, both Illinois Republicans, introduced legislation on Thursday that they say will limit the authority of the NCAA “in the interests of preserving the sovereignty of member institutions.”
After hosting the event for seven seasons, the University of Illinois tennis team is playing its NCAA regional matches on the road after the NCAA declined to remove Chief Illiniwek from its list of “hostile and abusive” mascots, prompting the response from Hastert and Johnson.
“The NCAA was established as a sports management association. The organization has since assumed the mantle of social arbiters. They need to go back to scheduling ballgames and leave the social engineering to others,” Johnson said in a statement.
“I want to emphasize that this is a bipartisan response to the NCAA having undermined the local decision-making authority of its member institutions, their alumni and fans. It is unfortunate that congressional intervention is necessary, but if we as legislators are to represent the will of the people, we would be shirking our responsibility to do otherwise.”
The bill, HR 5289, is called the Protection of University Governance Act of 2006. The bill’s co-sponsors are three Democrats: Allen Boyd, Fla.; Dan Boren, Okla.; and Jerry Costello, Ill.
According to its sponsors, the bill would limit the NCAA’s ability to impose sanctions on member institutions by reason of a team name, symbol, emblem or mascot. The bill would allow any college or university that is penalized for those reasons to sue the NCAA and seek a court order to stop the decision. The institution could also seek damages, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, for the revenue lost from not being allowed to host an athletic championship.
The NCAA recently denied an appeal by North Dakota to allow it to continue to use the “Fighting Sioux” nickname and imagery.
“Local economies across the country would be impacted if the NCAA’s recent decisions are allowed to prevail unchecked. As indicated by the sponsors who have signed on and who will continue to sign on, this is not a Republican grievance or a Democratic grievance,” said Johnson. “The NCAA’s presumed authority is a grievance against us all.”
The bill states: “Any attempt by an entity that regulates intercollegiate sports activities to impose its view of correct social policy on institutions of higher education participating in such activities is inimical to the traditions of higher education in America and is inconsistent with university governance and academic freedom. Attempts to regulate institutions in this manner detract from the diversity of America and the independence of thought and spirit that are the essence of higher education in this nation.”