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Bush blasts NCAA as FSU plans response

The governor says the decision to punish schools with Native American mascots is insulting.

Published August 10, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - Controversy over the Florida State University mascot intensified Tuesday as Gov. Jeb Bush condemned a new NCAA policy and university officials planned to meet in emergency session to discuss their next move.

"How politically correct can we get?" Bush told reporters Tuesday morning before a meeting of the state Cabinet. "To me, the folks that make these decisions need to get out more often."

Bush said new NCAA policies, aimed at schools using American Indian mascots, nicknames or imagery considered hostile and abusive, were offensive to the Seminole Indian Tribe of Florida, which "supports traditions of FSU."

"I think they insult those people by telling them, "No. No. You're not smart enough to understand this,' " Bush said. " "You should be feeling really horrible about it.' It's ridiculous."

FSU's board of trustees will meet in an emergency session today to discuss the issue and its formal, written response to the NCAA.

FSU president T.K. Wetherell has said he also will pursue all legal avenues and told the Associated Press that prominent attorney Barry Richard, who successfully represented George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential recount in Florida, has agreed to represent FSU.

Although FSU has the blessing of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the NCAA Executive Committee, a group of university presidents, said FSU was one of 18 schools that, effective Feb. 1, will not be able to host NCAA championship events. If their teams are in the postseason, they must remove or cover the "hostile and abusive" images.

Wetherell received a three-page letter Tuesday afternoon from NCAA president Myles Brand, outlining the school's possible recourse, including an appeal to the executive committee.

FSU and the other schools, including Illinois and Utah, also can seek a legislative amendment to override or modify the new rules. That also would have to receive the executive committee's approval.

It's still unclear on what grounds FSU would sue, but Wetherell has called the measures "arbitrary and capricious," terminology that suggests an abuse of discretion on the NCAA's part.

The NCAA does control its postseason, as it showed when it banned South Carolina and Mississippi schools from hosting any predetermined NCAA championship events in response to the Confederate battle flag.

It hasn't faced a lawsuit to challenge that ruling, according to the NCAA, but the mascot issue carries tougher penalties.

Student-athletes can't have the "hostile and abusive" symbols on their uniforms during postseason NCAA play and, beginning Aug. 1, 2008, neither can cheerleaders, dance team members nor band members.

Even with powerful political allies, FSU's task to preserve its traditions does not appear easy.

"Over the last four years, we've received a variety of complaints from fans, coaches, officials, student-athletes, Native Americans and non-Native Americans that mascots on a war path or the way they're dancing (for example) perpetuates a negative stereotype that marginalizes this group of people," said Charlotte Westerhaus, the NCAA's vice president for diversity and inclusion.

In the context of civil rights cases, the NCAA has come up with a working definition of "hostile and abusive" that she said is "broad and a high standard" that shows the NCAA supports diversity and inclusion of every person.

Westerhaus has been busy since Friday's announcement of the new policy, fielding calls and letters and e-mails from supporters of FSU.

She said the FSU mascot, Chief Osceola, brought on much of the criticism from American Indians outside the Sunshine State.

Chief Osceola, a student dressed in traditional clothing and wearing war paint, rides the horse Renegade into the stadium and hurls a flaming spear into the ground to excite the players and fans before football games.

"They think (that image portrays) savagery," Westerhaus said.

Interestingly, the new NCAA measures don't currently affect Division I-A football, but the measure would affect basketball and other sports. The NCAA doesn't control bowl games or league championship games, although it would like the Bowl Championship Series to follow suit.

BCS coordinator Kevin Weiberg told USA Today that the commissioners of the 11 major conferences and Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White will "review" the mascot issue during BCS meetings Sept. 19-20 in Chicago.

"It seems to me this is a question for all the bowl games, not just those that are part of the BCS," Weiberg said.

Rick Catlett, president of the Gator Bowl, said he foresees the Football Bowl Association addressing the issue in January, its next meeting, but can't imagine change.

"From the Gator Bowl perspective, we think it's absolutely absurd, and we would never ask an institution to change its marks or logos to play in our game," he said.

Westerhaus said the NCAA will "continue to monitor" the situation.

Bush, like Wetherell and others, insists the NCAA should be monitoring other issues.

"They should be worried about graduation rates among college athletes," Bush said. "Maybe if they had some suggestions on that that universities could apply and implement, they could be doing a service to all of us."

[Last modified August 10, 2005, 00:38:10]

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