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William and Mary to change athletic logo before Fall 2007

The College of William and Mary has notified the National Collegiate Athletic Association that during the next academic year the College will phase out the two feathers that are currently a part of its athletic logo.

The decision comes in response to a recent NCAA ruling regarding William and Mary’s athletic logo. While the Association stipulated that the nickname “Tribe” was not problematic, the College was forced to change its logo or face sanctions that would restrict its opportunities in NCAA postseason play.

“It is galling that a university with such a consistent and compelling record of doing intercollegiate athletics the right way is threatened with punishment by an organization whose house, simply put, is not in order,” said William and Mary President Gene R. Nichol. “Still, in consultation with our Board of Visitors, we have determined that we are unwilling to sue the NCAA to further press our claims.” Citing the opportunities such legal action would foreclose for student athletes, the time and resources it would require, and its possible impact on the university’s position as a leader in American higher education, Nichol concluded that adhering to the NCAA’s decision “is the correct course for the College,” adding, “We are required to hold fast to our values whether the NCAA does so or not.”

“The Board and I agree that it is time for us to move on as an institution,” said Michael K. Powell, rector of the College. “Rather than drawing on our resources to take the debate with the NCAA to the courts, we should devote ourselves to the more critical elements of our mission. Our staff and faculty, and most of all our students, deserve no less.”

William and Mary’s decision to change its athletic logo is related to a review that began in 2004 by the NCAA of more than 30 universities’ use of mascots, nicknames, logos and imagery associated with Native Americans to determine whether they were “hostile and abusive.” In May 2006, the NCAA ruled that William and Mary’s “Tribe” nickname was neither hostile nor abusive but determined that the athletic logo – which contains two green and gold feathers – could create an environment that is offensive. William and Mary appealed that decision in June to the NCAA Executive Committee. That appeal was denied this past August.

In a letter to the campus community, Nichol cited three reasons why William and Mary will not challenge the NCAA ruling in court:

First, Nichol said, failing to comply with the NCAA ruling could mean that William and Mary athletes would not be able to compete at the highest level. Universities placed on the NCAA list are prohibited from hosting NCAA-sponsored postseason games and from using the image in NCAA-sponsored postseason play. For example, two years ago William and Mary hosted a semifinal national championship football game against James Madison University. At present, Nichol said, the College would be barred from hosting such a competition in any sport.

“I believe it is our obligation to open doors of opportunity and challenge for our students, not to close them,” Nichol said. “I will not make our athletes pay for our broader disagreements with a governing association.”

Second, Nichol said the College needs to maintain its focus on issues such as assuring access to students, supporting faculty research and classroom instruction, and providing the campus with state-of-the-art facilities.

“Given the well-known challenges that this and other universities face, I am loath to divert further energies and resources to an expensive and perhaps multi-faceted lawsuit over an athletic logo,” Nichol said. “Governing requires the setting of priorities. And our fiercest challenges reside at the core of our mission.”

Third, Nichol cited William and Mary’s place as a national treasure. The president said he was unwilling to allow the College to become a “symbol and lodestar for a prolonged struggle over Native American imagery that will likely be miscast and misunderstood to the detriment of the institution.”

Nichol also cited several examples of William and Mary’s status as a model institution in terms of scholar athletes. For example, William and Mary’s athletic program last year achieved the fifth-highest Academic Performance Rating in the nation, according to a formula established by the NCAA. In a recent NCAA survey on Graduation Success Rate, William and Mary sports teams far exceeded the national averages of Division I athletic programs, and 11 teams at the College graduated 100 percent of their players. Each year, the College graduates approximately 95 percent of senior student athletes. During the past decade, two William and Mary student athletes have been named Rhodes Scholars and 42 have been elected to membership in Phi Beta Kappa.

Nichol said a new logo will be developed before the start of the fall 2007 semester. The president has asked Sam Sadler, vice president for student affairs, to chair a committee that will oversee the development of a new athletic logo. That committee will involve students, faculty, staff and alumni throughout the process.