Best Of 2007: RIP Chief Illiniwek

Ryne E. HancockCorrespondent IDecember 24, 2007

IconFor 80 years, no symbol in college sports captivated fans like Chief Illiniwek.

From his humble beginnings at an Illinois-Penn football game in 1927, the Chief represented the fighting spirit of the Native Americans who populated Illinois hundreds of years ago.

For some, that is.

Others, including a large segment of Native Americans around the country, believed that the Chief was a racially offensive mascot that did more harm than good for the state of Illinois.

The NCAA stepped in by banning the school from hosting NCAA championship events. Illinois eventually relented—but when the Chief was officially retired on Feb. 21, 2007 during a basketball game against Michigan, it was a sad end to one of the most storied traditions in college sports.

The Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, and Atlanta Braves face no penalties for their Native American mascots. So why would the NCAA want to mess with tradition?

Is it because Illinois is a state school, or because NCAA officials don't have anything better to do with their time?

Is it because Illinois is in the middle of the best run in their basketball history, and headed to their first Rose Bowl in 23 years?

Or is it because our society is focused on things that really aren't important?

Academics and ethics are what matter for the NCAA. Somehow a mascot doesn't seem to me to be worthy of anyone's attention.