Lawsuits claimed Illinois broke state law by shelving mascot

URBANA, Ill. -- A judge on Tuesday dismissed a pair of lawsuits that claimed the University of Illinois broke state law when it shelved its American Indian mascot, Chief Illiniwek.

One of the lawsuits, filed by the two students who used to don the costumes at men's basketball and football games, had also accused the NCAA of coercing the university to drop Chief Illiniwek by imposing sanctions against its athletic teams.

Champaign County Judge Michael Jones, an Illinois graduate, said the university was within its rights when it decided in February to eliminate the chief.

Tom Hardy, a spokesman for the University of Illinois, said it expected and welcomed the decision.

"The judge carefully considered all of the arguments in this case and found in favor of the university, as we expected he would, and we are satisfied with today's ruling," he said.

NCAA spokesman Bob Williams said the judge's decision vindicates the organization.

"In no way did we force the school to take the action," he said.

Dan Maloney, the last chief and a plaintiff in the February lawsuit also filed by former assistant chief Logan Ponce, said he was disappointed. But he said that he was glad he had challenged the university's decision.

"One, I've done everything I can, and two, I know that I won't look back on this time 20 years down the road and think, 'Why didn't I do this, why didn't I do that?'" said the 24-year-old graduate student.

Maloney and Ponce have 30 days to appeal, but Maloney said he wasn't sure what they will do.

Champaign attorney John Gadau, the plaintiff in the other lawsuit, did not return a call to his office Tuesday.

The decision to eliminate the chief followed two decades of disagreement about the mascot, played for 81 years by students who danced at football and basketball games wearing buckskin and feathered headdresses.

Many American Indians and others said Chief Illiniwek was an insulting caricature, while backers argued that the mascot honored American Indians.