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Midwest Opinion: The nickname key: What’s best for UND?

From Forum News Service

A recent editorial from a Midwest newspaper.

When North Dakotans voted 67 percent to 33 percent in 2012 to let the University of North Dakota retire the Fighting Sioux nickname, the reason wasn’t the Fighting Sioux nickname.

The reason was the NCAA. Never had a majority of North Dakotans thought poorly of the name, polls suggested. Instead, voters shared the view expressed by UND men’s hockey coach Dave Hakstol, a nickname supporter who said the NCAA had forced UND’s hand:

“With all of these factors in mind, I don’t see any way that UND can be a fully successful Division I entity across all sports if we continue to mandate by law the use of the Fighting Sioux,” Hakstol wrote.

In other words, when North Dakotans voted as they did, they did so for the good of the university.

And that’s the factor — the good of the university — that now should govern the search for a new nickname.

In our view, the university would be best served by finding a new nickname, not continuing under the moniker of North Dakota. But that will be up to the university and, ultimately, majority sentiment in North Dakota to decide.

This question of “what’s best for the university?” helps explain any number of recent events, including the North Dakota House’s rejection last week of an extension of the moratorium on a new name.

Why did a House majority vote that way? For the good of the university — the same reason that North Dakotans voted to let UND retire the Fighting Sioux nickname.

A nickname gives a rallying point to students, alumni and fans, and UND is hurt by the fact that it lacks one, President Robert Kelley testified.

His testimony resonated; it reflected what observers can see. It’s obvious that nicknames serve a valuable purpose, as Harvard, Stanford and other schools with world-class “brands” that nevertheless use nicknames would agree.

And it’s obvious that “North Dakota” doesn’t capture fans’ spirit or draw the same full-on support that a more traditional nickname would. That’s the basis for the observation that on balance, UND would be better off if it adopted a new nickname.

Besides, what would keeping “North Dakota” as a name prove? It wouldn’t vex the NCAA; the association couldn’t care less about UND, now that the university has retired Fighting Sioux.

“North Dakota” could be useful as a temporary name if UND had a real prospect of going back to Fighting Sioux. But the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has shown no indication of changing its mind, despite several opportunities for voting out its anti-nickname tribal leadership. And as long as Standing Rock doesn’t yield, the NCAA won’t, either.

All that’s left as a reason for keeping “North Dakota” are the feelings of those Fighting Sioux supporters who can’t get beyond the NCAA’s bullying. They are right to feel this way. The NCAA did act like a bully.

But keeping “North Dakota” doesn’t hurt the NCAA. It only hurts UND — and that’s why the option should be rejected.

What’s best for UND? That’s how North Dakotans framed the issue for the crucial vote in 2012. If the pattern holds, then North Dakotans will let the university pick a new nickname this year — because in 2015, that’s now what’s best for UND.

 — Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald