NCAA flaunts feathers

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January 29, 2010

1:55 AM

When the NCAA deemed our logo “hostile or abusive” in 2006 and subsequently banned it, we thought for sure that we had seen the last of the feathers. Imagine our surprise when just recently those bruised plumes emerged again in the most unlikely of places — on the NCAA’s own website. Frankly, the mind reels.

Initially, butting heads with the NCAA on this matter was a nightmare. When the organization’s ruling came down, it felt arbitrary and unfair. There was a sense that we were being made into the whipping boy, even as larger universities with similar monikers and logos avoided reproach. Worse, the conflict lasted years and, at its conclusion, threatened to revoke the privilege of hosting post-season event when the College of William and Mary was put in the awkward position of having to decide between protesting or bowing to a frivolous injustice.

The feathers were plucked in 2006, which unfortunately was just the beginning: Since then, the headache has only grown. For a full year, our teams took to the fields under no unifying logo.
At a snail’s pace, we crept toward the creation of a new symbol, incurring tens of thousands of dollars in costs during the largest recession in recent history. Just as the College closed its fist in areas where it counted — instituting hiring freezes and massive cutbacks — it also unnecessarily dumped money in this effort to come up with a new drawing for our T-shirts.

Because of the awkwardness of keeping the Tribe moniker but ditching the feathers, the Logo Committee’s hands were tied, creatively speaking. And, to say the least, the results of its effort were underwhelming. “It is hard to imagine any way that the Logo Committee could have produced a more bland new logo,” wrote The Flat Hat in a staff editorial criticizing the new design, which at the time we thought resembled “Microsoft WordArt.”

The recent work of the Mascot Committee suggests it struggled similarly with the added difficulty of earlier setbacks. Students decried the oddball offerings that made the short list, but with a bland logo, a very specific moniker and tight NCAA restrictions — based in a capricious sense of political correctness — on the mascot options available to tie them together, perhaps its arrival at a list of incoherent suggestions is the only outcome that makes any sense.

So, to find our old feathers, after all of this, on the NCAA’s website of all places may be a bit of a slap on the face, but there is a sweetness to the sting. After all, it took The Flat Hat, and not some Facebook-backed uprising, to bring the offending feathers to the organization’s attention. No one else noticed because no one else cared; from the get-go, this was a mountain made from a molehill, but unfortunately this process — which was perhaps a well intentioned, even if misconceived, gesture on the NCAA’s behalf — had real consequences for this university.

If this editorial is little more than an exercise in griping, then that little more is to be found in this message. Symbols are important. Sensitivity is important. But so is keeping everything in perspective.

Mindless aping of political correctness is great for creating a hullabaloo. It makes for excellent Sportscenter fodder or the odd opinions piece. But we must remember that at the other side of the fuss can be real consequence that has the possibility to distract and injure. This school and the NCAA each have their missions, and each is important in its own right. Snuffing out entanglements like these as early as possible allows them to keep their energies focused where they are needed.

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