During closed meeting, U of M committee decides to look nickname policy

A University of Minnesota advisory committee will reconsider its policy blocking the school from playing UND in any sports except hockey. Melissa Avery, chairperson of the school's Advisory Committee on Athletics, said Tuesday her committee will ...

A University of Minnesota advisory committee will reconsider its policy blocking the school from playing UND in any sports except hockey.

Melissa Avery, chairperson of the school's Advisory Committee on Athletics, said Tuesday her committee will "develop a process" to reconsider the policy but would not provide further details.

Avery said the decision was made at a Feb. 1 committee meeting that was closed to the public. She said minutes were not taken at the meeting.

A shift in the university's policy not to play any nonconference teams with American Indian nicknames and mascots could result in large profits and more neighboring competitions for UND's Fighting Sioux after the team's scheduled move to NCAA Division I athletics begins in 2008.

The Minnesota policy was put in place in 2003 but was not strictly enforced until late last year after the issue came up at a Nov. 2 committee meeting. After the decision, several UND coaches were turned down for requests to play Minnesota, UND athletic director Tom Buning said in December.


Nickname opponents at UND have cited the Minnesota policy, along with similar policies at Wisconsin and Iowa, as one more reason to drop the Fighting Sioux nickname and comply with a National Collegiate Athletic Association mandate barring UND from displaying the logo in postseason play.

UND is suing the NCAA over that mandate and won a temporary injunction allowing the school to retain the logo until the case reaches trial. That trial is scheduled to begin in December.

The Minnesota advisory committee will meet again March 1, Avery said. She would not say whether the school's nickname policy will be discussed at that meeting or when more details will be made available.

Closed meeting,

no records

The advisory committee voted to close their February meeting to the public, Avery said, and decided not to take minutes.

Bill Donohue, the university's deputy general counsel, said Avery asked him for advice on whether the meeting could be closed. He said he told Avery the state's open meeting law only applies to the Board of Regents, the University of Minnesota system's governing body.

"The issue of whether other meetings have to be open is up to the chair of the meeting," Donohue said.


Minnesota's open meeting law states the law applies to the governing body of a public institution and also to a "committee, subcommittee, board, department or commission of a public body subject to the law."

Attorney Mark Anfinson said the definition of what is and is not a committee or subcommittee of a public body is legally "mushy," but said a good argument could be made that the Advisory Committee on Athletics meeting should not have been closed.

Anfinson represents the Minnesota Newspaper Association and is a specialist in First Amendment and open meeting law.

"If the Regents blessed this (committee), set it up and approved of it - if it's their creature, in other words - you can make a good argument it should be subject to open meeting law," Anfinson said.

"This is an important policy debate, and it should have done publicly," he said. "It's shameful to (close the meeting) in a case like this where no one's privacy is being affected, where they just don't want public scrutiny."

If minutes had been taken at the meeting, Anfinson said, those would have been public information regardless of whether the meeting was closed, according to Minnesota's Data Practices Act.

Nickname effects

University of Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi said in December he brought the nickname policy to the advisory committee's attention with the hopes of loosening the policy and opening the door for Minnesota to play UND in several sports. Instead, he said, the committee voted to enforce the policy more strictly.


At the time, committee members stressed that the athletic director makes all final scheduling decisions, not the advisory committee, which only meets monthly.

UND and Minnesota are rivals in hockey, but rarely compete in other sports where the two are in different leagues and divisions. If Minnesota changes its nickname policy, the two schools likely will compete more often, bringing money to both programs.

Division I-A football schools, such as Minnesota, usually guarantee opponents between $125,000 and $400,000 per game, coaches said. There also are guarantees in basketball but not to the same extent.

North Dakota State University made the move to Division I in 2004. In October, the school received $275,000 to play Minnesota.

Buning said Minnesota's decision would not have an effect on the school's Division I plans.

UND is one of only a few schools remaining on the NCAA's list of "hostile and abusive" institutions. Out of 18 listed in August 2005, the majority have either obtained an exemption from the association or ended their use of American Indian imagery or nicknames.

The most notable of those schools, the University of Illinois, voluntarily retired its American Indian mascot, Chief Illiniwek, last week.

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