|« Move to FBS has UMass hoping on a higher quality player||EKU coach keeps watchful eye on special teams »|
Grand Forks senator asks Big Sky Conference for time with UND nickname
Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, has appealed to the Big Sky Conference to appreciate the difficult position UND is in regarding the Fighting Sioux nickname issue, and to not act against UND’s scheduled admission to the conference at least until the North Dakota Legislature has an opportunity to reconsider the recently enacted nickname law.
He suggested in his letter today to Big Sky Commissioner Douglas Fullerton that the North Dakota Legislature could reconsider the nickname law during a brief session scheduled later this year.
“I’m not sure, if a vote were taken today, how the Legislature would react,” he said in an interview today. “It’s going to take leadership and political courage, especially for those who favored this (law) in the first place, to do the right thing and get rid of this impediment to UND’s success.”
In his letter, Schneider wrote that he was troubled by comments Fullerton made last week to UND President Robert Kelley, expressing the conference presidents’ concerns about the nickname fight and suggesting it could result in UND’s eventual rejection as a conference member.
“Without a viable conference affiliation, it is my belief that the very future of intercollegiate athletics at UND is in jeopardy,” Schneider wrote.
A former Fighting Sioux football player himself, Schneider asked that Fullerton and presidents of the member schools of the Big Sky Conference “consider the regrettable position in which UND student athletes have been placed” by passage of the nickname law, which requires UND to maintain the Fighting Sioux name and logo.
“Reacting to the NCAA’s policy on Native American imagery, North Dakota lawmakers — many with tenuous or nonexistent connections to UND — voted to enact House Bill 1263,” he wrote.
“As a result of the incompatibility between NCAA policy and this state law, the young men and women of UND athletics are stuck in a (vise) that they had no hand in tightening and cannot undo. They are completely innocent, but would bear all of the downside of any decision by the Big Sky Conference to reject UND’s membership.
“The politicians, on the other hand, would largely be spared any harm.”
Will NCAA budge?
Schneider was among eight lawmakers of the 12-member Grand Forks delegation who opposed the nickname bill, and the opponents’ arguments in the House and Senate included similar concerns about what the legislation might mean for UND’s jump to Division I athletics, admission to a quality conference and ability to recruit and field quality athletic teams.
The nickname legislation was authored by House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, and handily passed both legislative chambers after a ferocious email campaign mounted by nickname supporters, including UND hockey Coach Dave Hakstol.
Carlson said Tuesday that he plans to consult this week with his Senate counterpart and Gov. Jack Dalrymple about approaching the NCAA. It would be the second such attempt; a plan to bring NCAA leaders to Bismarck shortly after the legislative session ended fell apart.
Carlson and other advocates of UND retaining the nickname say they want to lay out their case before NCAA officials and see if they can’t persuade the association to relax its position regarding UND and the use of American Indian imagery.
“I think they can be moved some,” Carlson said.
The NCAA says it will implement sanctions against the university if UND fails to drop the nickname and logo, which it had agreed to do under terms of a 2007 legal settlement with the athletics association.
In a brief statement after adoption of the nickname law, the NCAA said its policy would not be affected by state legislation.
Schneider asked Fullerton to “keep state leaders informed of any action that will be taken with regard to UND’s membership in the Big Sky Conference should the state law mandating use of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo remain in statute.”
Noting that the Legislature will meet in November to take up redistricting, “this potentially provides the opportunity to reconsider the state law which has given rise to the Big Sky Conference’s concerns,” he wrote.
“Having reliable information on the impact of legislative inaction will be determinative as to whether the North Dakota Legislature decides to take up this contentious issue during a very time-limited session.”
Schneider: Everybody gets wet in this ‘river’
In the interview today, Schneider said that he had talked with other members of the Grand Forks delegation but that they were not involved in drafting the letter to Fullerton.
“I’m very worried,” he said. “This legislation is courting disaster for UND athletics. If UND is expelled, we don’t have a conference, and life as an independent under NCAA sanctions is not something UND can live with.”
Schneider said he was surprised to read Carlson’s statement Tuesday that he had not seen Fullerton’s letter, since it was the Big Sky Conference presidents’ response to legislation that the majority leader “had sponsored and shepherded into law.”
Carlson was in Florida earlier this week, attending a national legislative leadership conference, and has been out of the state on other matters in recent weeks.
“Regarding his proposed meeting with the NCAA, I wish him luck,” Schneider said. “I sincerely do. But the notion that a heart-to-heart with the NCAA at this point is going to change things radically is not tethered to reality.
“The focus now has to be squarely on doing what is in the best interests of student athletics, the program and UND, and making sure we are a full-fledged member of the Big Sky Conference come 2012.”
If state leaders fail to budge the NCAA and the issue returns to the Legislature, Schneider said action there was “unpredictable.”
“This is a river that nobody crosses without getting wet.”
By Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald