NICKNAME DEADLINE: Oct. 1UND must retire the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo starting Oct. 1 unless the university can get not only the blessings of the two namesake tribes but a 30-year agreement with those tribes, the State Board of Higher Education decided Thursday.
By: Tu-Uyen Tran, Grand Forks Herald
DICKINSON, N.D. — UND must retire the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo starting Oct. 1 unless the university can get not only the blessings of the two namesake tribes, but a 30-year agreement with those tribes, the State Board of Higher Education decided Thursday.
It’s a condition that appears all but impossible given the reality of tribal divisions, the timing of elections on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and the extensive negotiations that would be necessary for such a long-term agreement.
The board weighed the nickname, which has been a UND tradition since the 1930s, against a historic opportunity to be a part of the Summit League athletic conference, which includes traditional rival, North Dakota State University, and beginning in 2011, the University of South Dakota.
Grant Shaft and Duaine Espegard, Grand Forks, told fellow board members the board they’d visited with league Commissioner Tom Douple in Chicago a few weeks ago and were told: There is space for one university left in the league and six universities have already applied, one of which Douple said “had national recognition.”
Douple also made it clear, Shaft said, that there is no guarantee UND will get in the league with the nickname gone. Still, Shaft said he believes it would make the most logical sense, considering how Douple wants to consolidate the league in the Dakotas.
It also would make a lot of sense for UND on multiple levels — stronger fan enthusiasm in competition against old rivals being one, Shaft said, basing his comments on conversations with UND athletic director Brian Faison.
Initially, Shaft recommended an Aug. 1 deadline to begin retiring the nickname. Board member Pam Kostelecky felt Oct. 1 would be better because it would give Standing Rock nickname supporters a chance to issue a referendum either at the July 15 primary election or the Sept. 15 tribal election.
The Spirit Lake tribe voted last month overwhelmingly to support the nickname.
The full retirement of the nickname would have to be done by Aug. 1, 2010.
Originally, under a timetable laid out by the state board, UND had until February 2010 to win the blessings of the namesake tribes. If that failed to happen, it was to fully retire the nickname by Nov. 30, 2010, as required by the legal settlement between UND and the NCAA, which opposes Indian nicknames.
Q. Why is the Summit League so important to UND?
A. The Summit League appears to be the ideal athletic conference for UND because most of its members are Midwestern universities. Besides reviving old rivalries with NDSU and SDSU, it would cut down on travel costs significantly, Shaft said.
“UND has some horrendous traveling expenses with its minor teams, volleyball, baseball,” he said. It’s possible to combine team travel and save a lot of money, he said.
Another advantage is the Summit League has an automatic berth at NCAA playoffs, Shaft said. NDSU’s men’s basketball team got in the tournament this year because it was league champion and, historically, UND has competed well against NDSU, meaning UND could advance to the tournament, too.
And, he said, league membership has helped NDSU with stronger enrollment and donations.
It’s worth noting that of the three major sports UND is involved in, hockey and football already are in separate conferences, which leaves just basketball. On the other hand, the nickname is most strongly affiliated with hockey and the biggest potential impact of a nickname change would be with that program.
Shaft said he understands hockey would get hit the hardest. But, he said, some of the feared impacts, such as massive changes necessary at the Sioux logo-bedecked Ralph Engelstad Arena, wouldn’t come to pass. The Ralph, under the NCAA settlement, could mostly stay as is, he said.
Q. What are UND’s chances of getting in the league?
A. It’s anybody’s guess at this point how much of a chance UND would have against the six other universities that want in on the league.
In his discussion with Douple, Shaft told the Herald the commissioner “played it pretty close to the chest,” probably because he doesn’t want to speak for his members. That’s really where the decision lies, Shaft said.
Douple earlier had said he would not consider an application from UND until the nickname issue is resolved. Shaft told the Herald his feeling is that’s a reflection of how league members feel.
League members worry that competing with UND before the nickname is resolved could bring “trouble” to their campuses, he said to the board. “It’s baggage that UND tends to bring along that disrupts their perfect world, so to speak.”
Still, even if UND were to apply to the league today and were accepted, it wouldn’t actually compete with other league members until 2011, at which time the nickname issue would have been long resolved.
Shaft said he and Espegard believe UND would be the most logical choice for Summit League members. UND has similar programs to NDSU and USD, he said, and Douple “spoke of solidifying the Dakota schools within the conference.”
Q. What’s the urgency of resolving the nickname now?
A. The Summit League isn’t necessarily going to wait for UND, particularly with others looking to get in.
It has 11 members and considers 12 an optimal number for scheduling games. USD is entering the league July 1, 2011. If UND were accepted within the next several months, it also would enter in 2011, matching USD’s timeline. That would make scheduling even more optimal and more attractive to the league, Shaft said.
Alternatively, it would be just as optimal if some other university joined by 2011.
Would it make a difference if UND applied Aug. 1 or Oct. 1? Shaft said, “I can’t tell you that. It‘s just the earlier the better.”
Q. How challenging is a 30-year agreement?
A. Getting a 30-year agreement in the next 4½ would seem to be a herculean political task for nickname supporters on the reservations.
Spirit Lake nickname supporters arguably have the easiest time. Members voted 764-371 in April to let UND keep the nickname. The Tribal Council would have to approve a resolution to that effect to satisfy the NCAA settlement.
John Chaske, the leader of the nickname supporters, said he doesn’t know when the council would do so, though he expects it will want to meet with UND officials first. New council members will take office at the end of May and the new council would decide on the timeline, he said.
For Standing Rock nickname supporters, the situation is much tougher. They’re gathering signatures for a referendum July 15 or Sept. 15, but, as with Spirit Lake, the Tribal Council would have to approve a resolution.
The present council will not do that, tribal Chairman Ron His Horse is Thunder told the board.
He and most of the council are up for re-election and, even if they were displaced by pro-nickname members, those new members won’t take office until Oct. 1, the state board’s deadline.
A 30-year agreement is even trickier, though Shaft and other board members feel it is necessary because no one wants the nickname to bounce from round to round of tribal votes.
His Horse is Thunder told the board that for the nickname to bind the Tribal Council it couldn’t be just a law, but a constitutional amendment, which would take a vote of tribal members. But even if that were to happen, he said, tribal members can undo the amendment with another vote at anytime. “No laws can be said to last forever.”
A long-term agreement would likely take a lot of negotiation between UND and the tribes, which would be even more difficult if the people who might want to be at the negotiation table are tribal members who wouldn’t take office until Oct. 1.
Q. Is the 30-year agreement an impossible condition?
A. Board President Richie Smith described the 30-year agreement as “challenging” and his marching orders to UND are to begin retiring the nickname unless an agreement somehow appears. At times, he seemed to indicate that the nickname was all but finished: “The logo and nickname have been a symbol of pride for many generations, but it’s time to move forward.”
Shaft, asked if he didn’t think “impossible” would be a better description of the situation, told the Herald, “It’s the best timeline we could give that didn’t fully jeopardize UND’s positioning for league affiliation; it’s a compromise, no question.”
UND President Robert Kelley said if the nickname did change, he would form an “inclusive planning committee” to gather input. Until that committee decides on a new nickname, he said, UND will be known simply as “UND.”
Asked if he had any ideas for a nickname, Kelley demurred. He doesn’t want to speculate, he said.
Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.