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N.D. officials to meet with NCAA over nickname
North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple and University of North Dakota President Robert Kelley lead a delegation Friday in Indianapolis that will try to convince the NCAA to allow the university to keep its Fighting Sioux logo and avoid sanctions against its athletics program.
The meeting comes a day after six American Indian students at the school filed a federal lawsuit over its Fighting Sioux nickname. The complaint alleges that a new law requiring the school to keep the nickname violates the state constitution and reverses a court-ordered settlement between the school and NCAA.
The NCAA informed member schools with American Indian nicknames in 2005 that they would face penalties that included being unable to host NCAA postseason events if they did not change their nicknames or receive approval from native tribes to use the nickname. The North Dakota Board of Higher Education agreed in 2009 to retire the Fighting Sioux logo. But the state legislature passed a law this spring, signed by the governor, that required UND to keep the moniker.
Florida State, for example, was allowed to remain the Seminoles after member tribes approved. But only one of the two major Sioux tribes —Spirit Lake— gave North Dakota its blessing. The Standing Rock tribe did not grant permission.
The NCAA, which has a Monday deadline for a change, has remained firm in its position.
“What we’re hoping for is some measure of clarity, whether it’s movement in the NCAA’s position or that of the legislature,” said UND spokesman Peter Johnson. “As President Kelley has characterized it, we’ve been walked to the edge of a cliff.”
Myles Lynk, a professor of law at Arizona State specializing in legal ethics and business organizations who also served as ASU’s faculty athletics representative to the NCAA, said this is an unusual standoff.
“The University of North Dakota is a public institution, and I presume it would have to abide by the actions of the state legislature,” he said. “But the NCAA is a private, membership organization, and I expect its decision would be upheld if it’s challenged.
“The university’s range of options is limited — it is caught between a rock and a hard place. But one could argue that the state legislature has made a decision that hosting NCAA championships is less important than keeping the logo.”
If the university remains the Fighting Sioux, it could face repercussions beyond NCAA actions. North Dakota was approved for membership in the Big Sky Conference effective in July 2012, but that invitation could be withdrawn.
“Most of our schools have close ties to Native American groups, and our members are very in tune with the NCAA’s position,” said Big Sky Commissioner Doug Fullerton. “I fully expect the NCAA will stay the course, and what the NCAA decides to do will probably be replicated in some manner by the Big Sky.”
Schools could choose not to play North Dakota, which could damage the conference as a whole, particularly in football, where the Big Sky has had a team in the Championship Subdivision title game each of the last three seasons.
“If they cannot host postseason games and if they can’t schedule appropriately, they would become marginalized and a less desirable conference member,” Fullerton said. “That would be more harmful than anything the NCAA does.”
Fullerton sent the UND president a letter in June, detailing the conference’s concerns and possible ramifications.
“When we voted to bring them into the league (the Fighting Sioux logo) was a non-issue because they were in the process of abandoning that name,” Fullerton said. “We very much appreciate and understand the box the university has been put in. But that doesn’t help our position and we may have to take a second look at their membership.”
by Andy Gardiner, USA TODAY