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U. officially files appeal on Utes nickname

NCAA asked to give answer before Friday's game

The University of Utah officially filed its appeal Wednesday with the NCAA, asking to be removed from a list of 18 schools the NCAA says use American Indian nicknames, mascots or imagery in a "hostile" or "abusive" manner.

Removal from that list would mean the U. could continue using the Utes nickname during NCAA postseason play or when hosting NCAA tournaments.

U. President Michael Young said in the school's appeal, faxed to the NCAA Wednesday, that he would like an answer before the Utes' first football game Friday against the Arizona Wildcats.

"The University is anxious to have this matter resolved," Young wrote to Bernard Franklin, NCAA vice president of governance and membership in Indiana.

The football game will be aired nationally on ESPN. Fred Esplin, U. vice president of university relations, alluded to what could be an entire broadcast talking about an issue that's over or still a controversy.

There is precedent the NCAA can move fast on an appeal.

"They sure acted quickly on Florida," Esplin said.

After learning Florida State University had the continued support of the Seminole Indian Tribe to use the nickname Seminoles and mascot Chief Osceola, the NCAA took FSU off its list last week.

The formal U. appeal includes two letters to Franklin in support of the U. — one from Maxine Natchees, chairwoman of the Uintah and Ouray Tribal Business Committee, and one from Craig Thompson, commissioner of the Mountain West conference.

"The Ute Indian Tribe has formally approved the University of Utah's use of the Ute name and supports the University's continued use of it," Natchees wrote in her Aug. 29 letter.

Natchees described to Franklin an "effective" partnership between the Ute Tribe and the U., saying the U. has sponsored educational programs and provided scholarships to tribal members.

On Aug. 24 the Ute Tribal Business Committee passed a resolution that said the U.'s use of the Ute nickname has been done with honor and respect of tribal culture. It's a source of pride for tribal members, the committee decided.

The U. appeal also included a 2003 memorandum of understanding and another resolution, both saying the U. would be establishing cooperative education programs and initiatives for the Ute Indian Tribe. Young said efforts in those areas are ongoing.

A third "exhibit" in the appeal was Thompson's letter, which says the U. and Ute Tribe have "enjoyed a long-standing and harmonious relationship." Retention of the Ute nickname, Thompson wrote, "is extremely beneficial to the continued positive relationship that currently exists between the Ute Tribe and the University of Utah."

In his seven-page letter, Young said the NCAA Executive Committee reached an "uninformed" conclusion that the U. somehow runs afoul of the new nickname policy.

Over the years, Young added, the university has made several changes, including the retirement of the "Redskins" nickname, cartoon character imagery, a warrior mascot, feathered headbands for the drill team and "cheers."

"Today, the only enduring symbol of the University's association with the Northern Ute Tribe is the 'Utes' name," Young wrote. "The Utes name honors the University's association with the Tribe."

Young went on to provide Franklin with 16 bullet points on ways the U. has maintained its commitment to Native American issues.