Bismarck site for closed meeting with NCAA over Sioux nicknameState and UND officials will meet with the president of the NCAA on April 22 in Bismarck to determine whether the athletics association is open to revising its position regarding the Fighting Sioux nickname and Indian-head logo.
By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald
State and UND officials will meet with the president of the NCAA on April 22 in Bismarck to determine whether the athletics association is open to revising its position regarding the Fighting Sioux nickname and Indian-head logo.
Grant Shaft, a Grand Forks attorney and vice president of the State Board of Higher Education, said that Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and leaders of the North Dakota House and Senate have been invited to the face-to-face meeting.
Also invited: Board President Jon Backes, UND President Robert Kelley and Athletic Director Brian Faison.
Shaft said that NCAA President Mark Emmert and Bernard Franklin, a longtime NCAA vice president and head of its governance committee, have agreed to attend the meeting. Additional NCAA officials may also participate.
It will be a closed meeting, Shaft said, adding that Stenehjem and Pat Seaworth, the board’s attorney, have indicated that the assemblage as anticipated “would not require” that it be open under North Dakota’s open meetings law.
“I leave that to (the attorney general and others more familiar with the law),” he said. “My personal view is that a meeting like that would be more productive as a closed meeting. We’re not going to be taking testimony.”
He said the meeting likely will take place outside the Capitol, on somewhat neutral ground, but Emmert’s decision to come to North Dakota himself suggests an openness to consider the changed circumstances.
“The NCAA said they’d come to Bismarck, which I thought was good of them,” he said.
NCAA president is new to the job
Emmert was president of the University of Washington before he became head of the NCAA in late April 2010, about three weeks after the North Dakota Board of Higher Education directed UND to drop the Sioux nickname.
The association had adopted a policy in 2005 aimed at getting member schools with American Indian mascots, nicknames and logos to drop such names and imagery. Some schools, including UND, appealed, and the North Dakota higher education board sued when UND’s appeals were denied.
Stenehjem negotiated a settlement of that lawsuit in 2007, which gave UND three years to get authorization from the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux tribes to continue using the Sioux name. In a referendum and tribal council action, Spirit Lake said yes, but Standing Rock’s council reaffirmed earlier decisions opposing use of the name. Efforts to arrange a referendum at Standing Rock also failed.
When the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled on April 8, 2010, that the state board did not have to let the full three-year grace period run out — despite an appeal by Spirit Lake nickname proponents — the board later that day directed UND to drop the name. The university immediately embarked on a transition, which was to be completed by Aug. 15.
The situation changed dramatically, however, when the North Dakota Legislature — heavily lobbied by UND alumni and others who wish to keep the much-cherished name — adopted a state law that orders the university to maintain it.
The law, signed by Dalrymple and set to go into effect on Aug. 1, also directs Stenehjem to sue the NCAA again if it seeks to penalize UND through sanctions or other actions.
Kelley has told his transition committees to suspend their work until he receives new direction from the state board.
The nickname bill was introduced by Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, leader of the House majority, who has been invited to the April 22 meeting, as has Senate Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem, R-Bismarck. The 2011 Legislature may still be in session at that time, but “if they are, we want to accommodate them” and the governor by holding the meeting in Bismarck, Shaft said.
He said he has not yet received confirmation that the state officials will attend the sit-down with the NCAA. Some may send representatives, he said.
Tribes not invited, but maybe later
When the law was passed, NCAA officials said the policy on usage of American Indian names and imagery stands and the North Dakota law was a “state matter,” and they declined further comment. But many nickname champions have suggested that the NCAA may be willing to reevaluate UND’s status in light of the legislative action, the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe’s endorsement and evidence of strong support for the nickname among some of the people at Standing Rock.
After Shaft said on Wednesday that he was trying to arrange a meeting with the NCAA and the state and UND officials, several nickname supporters asked why representatives of Spirit Lake and Standing Rock would not be included.
“Until we have these initial contacts and learn where the NCAA stands now, what opportunities there may be for something different, this is not the time to have the tribes at the table,” Shaft said today. “But if there does appear to be room to work with the NCAA, then we will engage the tribes in the talks.”
Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to email@example.com.