BY EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
The Associated Press
JACKSON - University of Mississippi officials on Tuesday delayed an online election for students, dues-paying alumni and others to choose a new look for the Colonel Rebel mascot.
The athletics committee was "not enthusiastic" about any of the three proposed new looks that were to be put up for a vote, said Jeff Alford, assistant vice chancellor of university relations.
The online vote was to have started later this week. Alford said it has been delayed indefinitely.
University officials said earlier this year that Colonel Rebel - a white-haired, bearded old Southern gentleman - needed a more athletic, up-to-date look.
Chancellor Robert Khayat said the name Rebels would still be used, but the bigheaded cartoon mascot was sidelined before this football season started.
The university sponsored a contest and asked students, alumni, fans and others to propose a new look for the mascot. Alford said 323 drawings were submitted and the athletics committee met Friday to choose three finalists.
He said the committee - made up of athletes, faculty, alumni and staff - asked artists to tweak their drawings before the three proposals would go to the online vote, but committee members still were not satisfied after changes were made.
"They felt like if they couldn't enthusiastically support the three, it was better not to put them out there for people to vote on," Alford said Tuesday.
The University of Mississippi in the past two decades has distanced itself from Old South imagery, including the Confederate flags that once filled the stands at football games.
Athletics Director Pete Boone has said other universities use Colonel Rebel against Ole Miss in trying to recruit black athletes.
Alford described the three proposed finalists as "race neutral" - one had blue skin, one had gray and one had red. The school colors are blue and red. Alford said one of the three finalists was a motorcycle rider, one bore a resemblance to the advertising icon Mr. Clean and one was a bearded, athletic looking man.
The decision to delay the online vote came a day after Khayat sent an e-mail to alumni saying the university's handling of Colonel Rebel had become a public relations mess.
Khayat wrote that plans are still in place to make over the mascot, but talk about doing so has "dominated the conversation within the Ole Miss family."
"Admittedly, we should have handled the matter better," Khayat wrote. "In hindsight, the timing and manner of the announcement added to the frustration. Although we tried to make it clear that the only change was to update the mascot, some people were fearful of a larger plan. These fears were and continue to be unfounded."
In a nonbinding, yes-or-no vote earlier this month, 94 percent of Ole Miss students participating in the election said they want to keep Colonel Rebel.
Brian Ferguson, a junior marketing major and chairman of the nonprofit Colonel Rebel Foundation, said Tuesday that university administrators have ignored students' wishes.
"I think they're possibly feeling pressure from the students as well as the fans as well as the alumni, people across the university who want to keep Colonel Reb," Ferguson said.
Football player Marvin Vaughn, a running back, said he didn't care what happens to Colonel Rebel.
"A mascot is a mascot," Vaughn said earlier this month. "It doesn't help and it doesn't hurt."