Summit League now the focus of school’s athletic departmentFor UND athletic officials, coaches and athletes, it was a day to vent, reminisce and look toward the future knowing their athletic programs no longer be called the Fighting Sioux after the 2010-11 season.
By: Wayne Nelson, Grand Forks Herald
For UND athletic officials, coaches and athletes, it was a day to vent, reminisce and look toward the future knowing their athletic programs no longer be called the Fighting Sioux after the 2010-11 season.
A Friday morning press conference revealed the hurt and disappointment felt by Fighting Sioux coaches and student-athletes after the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education a day earlier decided to retire the school’s controversial nickname and logo.
But the coaches of the four major programs at UND — men’s hockey, men’s basketball, football and women’s basketball — all agreed that it is important to move forward and find a way to negate the effects of ending an 80-year association with the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.
“It’s going to be real hard for me to move on and accept any other type of logo because of the fact that this is Sioux country,” UND women’s basketball coach Gene Roebuck said. “The whole state is Sioux country. We honor them by what’s in our heart. I will always be a Fighting Sioux in my heart.
“With that being said, I’m also a University of North Dakota guy. I’ve been here a long time and I respect the wishes of our athletic department.”
Now, UND’s athletic focus turns to the Summit League — the one conference that best fits the school’s athletic and academic profile. And the league also is home to North Dakota State, South Dakota State and South Dakota — three extraordinarily similar schools to UND.
The 10-school Summit League, however, has said it will not consider UND for membership until the school’s nickname and logo controversy is resolved.
“Obviously, it’s a sad day when you walk away from an 80-year tradition,” UND athletic director Brian Faison said. “But now we have a resolution and that’s been something real critical for us.
“We now have to pull everything together and move forward.”
Faison and UND President Robert Kelley both said they expected to talk to Summit League commissioner Tom Douple on Friday.
UND has applied for membership in the Summit. But the application has been placed on hold because of the school’s nickname and logo controversy that has lasted for decades. Summit presidents, which ultimately decide whether the league expands, will meet in June.
But Faison said he didn’t know if the presidents would take action at that time on UND’s application.
Because scheduling usually is done two years in advance, the realistic goal for UND membership in the Summit would be 2013.
Tom Douple, the Summit commissioner, did not return phone calls Friday seeking comment on UND’s application. In the past, though, he has said the Summit will consider UND for membership when there is a resolution to the controversy.
When UND made the move to Division I two years ago, conference affiliation was the athletic program’s priority. Without conference affiliation, life as a Division I independent would be difficult at best.
The Summit would benefit most of UND’s athletic programs, but not football since the league does not sponsor the sports.
The school’s basketball programs likely would benefit the most.
“Let’s face it, our scheduling right now is very difficult,” Roebuck said. “We have 12 games in our conference (Great West) and 17 nonconference games. Those (nonconference) games mainly are in November and December.
“We’re playing a lot of different opponents and a lot of them are on the road. The Summit League would give you stability and it would also less your travel and lessen the expense of having to play so many nonconference games.”
UND men’s coach Brian Jones has long been a proponent of the Summit.
“It’s very difficult to get teams to come to Grand Forks,” Jones said. “It’s extremely difficult from a recruiting standpoint as well. Young men and women want to have a chance to qualify for an NCAA Tournament.
“We don’t have that opportunity in the Great West.”
It will take years for the Great West to have an automatic qualifier for the NCAA Tournament. The Summit champion already advances to March Madness. Also, South Dakota is leaving the Great West after next season for the Summit. That could have dire consequences for the Great West.
“We could be an independent a year from now,” Jones said.
The resolution to the nickname controversy also could help UND in scheduling more regional games with financial benefits, Faison said.
“This also frees up other scheduling opportunities,” the UND athletic director said. “Minnesota now becomes an opportunity in certain sports. That will be a big, big plus.”
The Gophers, outside of men’s and women’s hockey, have refused to play UND in other sports because of the nickname controversy. Iowa — another Big Ten program — also has refused to schedule UND until a nickname resolution takes place.
That likely will change and it could lead to guarantee games for UND’s basketball and football programs.
And competition against teams like Minnesota and Iowa also may provide an opportunity for other UND programs.
“It could mean we don’t have to fly track teams over two states just to be in a meet,” Faison said.
The day after the state board’s decision left most of UND’s athletic teams with the realization that membership in an established conference may be on the horizon.
For football, however, the search goes on for an established home.
In the meantime, UND coach Chris Mussman said his program will conduct business as usual as the school prepares for its final season known as the Fighting Sioux.
“We’ll probably have more pride when we say, ‘Sioux,’ as we break from practice,” Mussman said.