'EXHAUSTED': With NCAA holding firm, N.D. higher ed board again votes to drop UND's Sioux nickname, logoState board's Shaft recounts details of NCAA meeting with N.D. delegation in Indianapolis
“We have exhausted all avenues,” State Board of Higher Education President Grant Shaft said before Monday's board meeting, “and we are now going to have to retire the nickname.” The state board voted unanimously Monday to do just that, approving a motion to have the process “substantially complete” by Dec. 31.
By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald
As they returned from their last-ditch effort to defend “Fighting Sioux” as a beloved, noble and ennobling nickname, the state’s emissaries showed disappointment, frustration and — perhaps most of all — fatigue.
“We have exhausted all avenues,” State Board of Higher Education President Grant Shaft said on Monday, “and we are now going to have to retire the nickname.”
The state board voted unanimously Monday to do just that, approving a motion to have the process “substantially complete” by Dec. 31.
It was clarity that North Dakota sought by sending much of the state’s political and education hierarchy into a meeting in Indianapolis Friday with leaders of the NCAA.
They wanted to ask, face to face, whether the NCAA wouldn’t take into account how widely revered UND’s Fighting Sioux nickname and logo are, including among many Native American citizens.
They wanted to ask whether there was any way to revisit the 2007 settlement agreement and all that’s happened since, to see whether that might open the door to UND retaining the nickname and logo.
In a two-hour private meeting described by participants as polite, professional and intense, NCAA President Mark Emmert and Vice President Bernard Franklin provided clarity.
They said no.
The policy against use of Native American nicknames, logos and mascots stands, Emmert said, and so do terms of the lawsuit settlement negotiated in 2007. Of 33 NCAA member schools originally identified as needing to drop Native American names and imagery, UND is the last to comply, accept sanctions or gain an exemption by obtaining support from identified namesake tribes.
So, as of Monday, UND is under NCAA sanctions for continuing to use the Fighting Sioux name and Indian-head logo. The symbols, enshrined in state law just four months ago, appear headed now into history.
“We have a pathway to resolving this,” Shaft said, one that “has been agreed to by the governor, the legislative leaders, the state board and the university.”
Some gains, too
The concerted appeal to the NCAA was not without important gains, he said.
“A letter (from the NCAA) will be made public and will be sent to member schools of the NCAA that the University of North Dakota is moving forward diligently” on retiring the nickname and should not be shunned by prospective student athletes or competitor institutions.
Also, Shaft said, “President Emmert will contact the commissioner of the Big Sky Conference” and convey the NCAA’s satisfaction with the understanding reached on Friday, clearing the way for UND’s entry into the Division I conference next year.
NCAA meeting: All arguments were presented
NCAA officials would not allow reporters into Friday’s meeting, but Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, and other state leaders summarized the results as they left the association’s building in downtown Indianapolis. Shaft provided a more detailed account of what transpired in an interview Monday morning and later in the conference call meeting of the state board.
“The governor led off the conversation,” Shaft said. "He sat directly across from President Emmert. After thanking the NCAA for the opportunity to sit down together, the governor asked Rep. Carlson, as primary sponsor of the (nickname) legislation, to begin the conversation.”
Carlson, the House majority leader, was prime sponsor of the legislation, passed by large majorities in both chambers and signed by Dalrymple, requiring UND to keep the Fighting Sioux nickname.
“Carlson spent 10 or 15 minutes outlining all the reasons the legislation was introduced, and the various arguments for maintaining the name and logo, the tribal support from the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe and the perceived support from the rest of the state,” Shaft said.
“The NCAA representatives listened intently.”
Carlson asked why the NCAA has continued to market Fighting Sioux apparel and other items on the association’s websites if the NCAA considers the nickname “hostile and abusive.”
Franklin pointed out that the NCAA “backed off ‘hostile and abusive’ with regard to UND in the settlement,” Shaft said. Franklin also noted “that we haven’t been on sanctions yet,” so it would have been inappropriate to pull those items.
When Carlson was finished, Dalrymple asked Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, to speak for the state Senate, and he reiterated much of what Carlson said.
The governor followed, pressing the case.
“Virtually anything you’ve ever heard in favor of keeping the name and logo was raised,” Shaft said.
Dalrymple posed the question several times and in various ways: “Is there any way we can keep the nickname or revise the settlement? We need to be certain because of the support (for the name and logo) we have in our state.”
The answer was an unequivocal no.
“Emmert was very well-schooled on the issue,” Shaft said. “He made it clear it was an issue of high importance to them.”
NCAA affirms policy before meeting with N.D.
The NCAA president told the North Dakotans that his executive committee had met “just a day or two before and reaffirmed the policy” against use of Native American names and imagery, and he made it clear that the policy was not open to change.
Neither was the 2007 settlement agreement.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, UND President Robert Kelley, Ralph Engelstad Arena Director Jody Hodgson and Shaft all participated in the discussion toward the end of the meeting. Hodgson “had the opportunity to speak as to views about what happens at the arena,” Shaft said.
Dalrymple said the parties agreed to have Stenehjem and NCAA representatives “negotiate” further on Sioux imagery on, outside and within the facility. In his report to the state board on Monday, Shaft said the NCAA “would send representatives to campus to meet with the attorney general and see if any changes can be made.”
The NCAA representative could be Franklin, who has been to the arena two or three times already, Shaft said.
He said that Hodgson has provided the NCAA with a list of items the REA board wants to have reviewed, and he sensed a willingness on the part of the NCAA “to be lenient on some items.”
The 2007 settlement agreement lists specific items that may be kept for historical, architectural or cost-effective reasons and those that should be removed, either immediately or over the next few years. The text of the full agreement is available on the attorney general’s website.
Also toward the end of Friday’s meeting, Dalrymple suggested that the legislation anticipated for the November special session should include a provision requiring “an affirmative vote” by the UND Alumni Association’s board of directors.
“For the most part, the alumni board has stayed fairly neutral on this because their board has diverging opinions,” Shaft said, but a number of past association presidents did weigh in on the debate earlier this summer, suggesting that it was time to drop the nickname to avoid causing the university harm.
UND stood alone
The mood at Friday’s meeting “was cordial,” Shaft said, “very direct and very professional.”
The NCAA leaders did seem to understand “that North Dakota is a unique situation,” Shaft said. “They understand that the level of support we have for the nickname, along with how we have tried to deal with the tribes and how the legislation came about — all that has created a unique situation for UND.
“Having said that, my view is that they hinge a lot of this on the fact that back in 2005, when the policy came out, they had 33 institutions that violated it, and they’ve essentially got it down to UND.”
(One other school, Alcorn State, refused to change its nickname and chose to accept the NCAA sanctions. Other schools either dropped Indian names and imagery or, as in the case of the Florida State Seminoles, won endorsement from namesake tribes.)
“They said that whatever anybody thinks about the policy is moot because the policy is there and all the others have come into compliance,” Shaft said. “They stated that UND was granted more deference in this than any of the other institutions.
“They still feel the policy is a good policy.”
Once it was clear there would be no nudging the NCAA off its insistence that the nickname must go, Dalrymple asked “if there was any help the NCAA could give us in softening the sanctions regarding scheduling and conference affiliation,” Shaft said.
“They said that as long as we were ‘diligently moving toward retirement of the nickname,’ they would do that.”
The governor said after Friday’s meeting that keeping the nickname could cause serious harm to the university and its athletic programs, as the NCAA had said it would encourage other member schools not to schedule competition with UND while UND is in noncompliance. Also, UND’s entry into the Big Sky Conference next year could be in doubt if the nickname stayed and the sanctions were sustained.
“I have come to the conclusion that the consequences of not retiring the Sioux logo are too great,” Dalrymple said.
Sitting in on Monday’s state board meeting, Stenehjem called the NCAA’s apparent willingness to revisit the REA logo questions “very good news,” and he also lauded the commitment to counsel other member schools and the Big Sky Conference to give UND leeway while the university works toward logo retirement.
UND likely to restart transition
Shaft, who for years took the lead at the state board in seeking tribal authorization for keeping the nickname, has been pilloried by many nickname supporters, either for not doing enough or for bungling chances to win Standing Rock’s approval.
“I’ve learned we’re not able to make everybody happy on this,” he said. “My view is that nobody has spent more time and effort trying to retain the logo than the board of higher education. I think that’s an indisputable fact — considering the meetings with the tribes and all the other efforts.
“The reality is at the end of the day we were able to obtain the consent of one tribe and not both. To a lot of people, that’s a failure. But in fact a lot of others, from the legislative branch and the REA, also have tried to obtain tribal approval with the same result.”
Shaft said he expects the university “between now and November would recommence the transitioning out of the logo,” a process UND started in spring 2010 but suspended following adoption of the nickname law.
A spokesman for UND President Kelley said Monday that UND will take the state board’s lead on how to restart the transition. Kelley said the work already done by two transition committees “provides a good start.”
“That needs to be done very carefully,” Shaft said. “We can’t take the position that the nickname and logo should be erased forever. That history needs to be there and not be forgotten. If we can do that, I think that will go a long way” toward easing disappointment over the loss of the name.
Some “practical issues,” such as UND teams appearing in upcoming seasons in Fighting Sioux jerseys, “won’t be stumbling blocks,” Shaft said, because the NCAA understands the timing involved in such contracts.
He also said the university “will remain a leader in Indian studies. That’s one of the markers that makes UND prominent nationally, and we don’t want to diminish that at all.”
Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send email to email@example.com.