NCAA will penalize UND if Fighting Sioux nickname not dropped
By Dale Wetzel, Associated Press
BISMARCK, N.D. -- A new state law that orders the University of North Dakota to keep its Fighting Sioux nickname won't shield the school from penalties for continuing to use a moniker the NCAA considers hostile to American Indians, an NCAA executive told the school Tuesday.
The law, which says UND must use the nickname and a logo featuring the profile of an American Indian warrior, "cannot change the NCAA policy" against using American Indian nicknames, logos or mascots that are considered offensive, said Bernard Franklin, an NCAA executive vice president.
In a letter to UND President Robert Kelley, Franklin said the university must follow an agreement it made in October 2007 to discontinue using the nickname and logo by Aug. 15, 2011, unless it received approval from North Dakota's Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux tribes.
Spirit Lake tribal members endorsed the nickname and logo in a referendum, and the tribe's governing council followed. The Standing Rock Sioux's tribal council, which has long opposed the nickname, has declined to change its stand.
The letter means UND will be subject to NCAA sanctions after the new law takes effect in August. According to NCAA policy, the school will be barred from hosting NCAA postseason games and its teams will not be able to wear the nickname and logo on its uniforms in postseason contests.
"We thought it was important to clarify the NCAA's position, given all of the activity that's taken place with this issue over the last two months," university spokesman Peter Johnson said. "I think the letter is pretty clear."
Grant Shaft, the vice president of the state Board of Higher Education and a board spokesman on the Fighting Sioux dispute, did not respond late Tuesday to telephone messages and emails requesting comment.
Supporters of the "Fighting Sioux law" had argued it could prompt the college athletics association to rethink its position on the nickname and logo. Franklin's letter includes no hint that will happen.
"Unfortunately, (the law) cannot change the NCAA policy nor alter the contracted terms of the agreement," Franklin said.
The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the Republican majority leader in the North Dakota House, was approved in the House and Senate overwhelmingly. It was signed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple last month a few hours after it was delivered to his office.
Carlson said that NCAA officials, legislators and the governor should meet to discuss the issue. Kelley had arranged a meeting Friday with Franklin and Mark Emmert, the NCAA's president, but the two officials declined after Kelley informed them the meeting might be open to the public.
"I think the citizens of our state view this quite differently than they do," Carlson said. "We want to know a lot more than what they're going to do. We want to know the reasons why, and we want them to listen to our side of the story."
Carlson said he hoped Emmert, who became the NCAA's president last October, would bring a fresh perspective to the issue.
"We got the impression that they were willing to look at new ideas," Carlson said. "We thought they were coming here to discuss some options, and hopefully those are still available, and we can get down and talk to them about it."
The earlier agreement settled a lawsuit UND filed against the NCAA, which claimed the association violated North Dakota's antitrust laws and used an arbitrary process in determining the logo and Fighting Sioux nickname were hostile to American Indians.
UND was among a group of 18 schools singled out for using allegedly disparaging nicknames, logos and mascots when the NCAA first announced in 2005 that it would push member colleges to get rid of them.