Red River High School Principal Kris Arason isn't too worried about the possibility of UND using the same nickname as his Grand Forks school.
He said the two entities are too different in competitive athletics for it to matter if both played as Roughriders, though he plans on gathering feedback from alumni, students and staff to find out how they feel as UND's nickname committee continues to narrow down the list of possibilities, which includes the name Red River athletes play under.
"I can understand why they're looking for a name like that and why it appeals to the committee," he said.
But Shawn Peterson, a Red River alumnus and current UND student has a different take on the issue.
"Right when it popped up I was like 'Oh that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard,'" he said. "Red River has been the Roughriders forever."
Roughriders is one seven options the nickname committee has moved forward for further discussion after going through a list of more than 1,000 names submitted by the public in April. The committee is charged with submitting a short list for a public vote since the school's former controversial Fighting Sioux name was retired in late 2012.
Branding professional Kelly O'Keefe has been working with UND for nine months to provide guidance on marketing best practices. He said commonly used names, such as Roughriders, are easily up for grabs as mascots and logos for universities.
"Generally with trademarks, the more unique the name, the more protected the trademark is," O'Keefe said. "If I have a name that is completely unique, an invented name like Cadillac Escalade ... it's well protected."
This applies to other names on the list, such as Nodaks and continuing to play as "UND/North Dakota" as the university has done since the former name was retired.
Sundogs, another name on the list, might be harder to obtain due to its rarity.
O'Keefe said UND's legal counsel will conduct a thorough legal review of the options the next time it is narrowed down.
"But it's not always black and white," he said. "A good attorney might say 'I think this is generally safe, but there's always possibility an obscure claim could be filed.'"
Can there be two?
O'Keefe said having a name completely to oneself is incredibly rare with athletic teams, and Roughriders alone is used by about 60 teams in the United States and Canada.
Variations of "Nodak" are also seen commonly in the state, as Grand Forks alone has Nodak Electric Cooperative, Nodak Cab Company and Nodak Mutual Insurance.
O'Keefe said UND couldn't try to use "Nodak Mutual Insurance" for anything because only one exists, but the term "Nodak" alone is up for grabs because it's commonplace.
"It probably wouldn't be protected, which is why there are so many businesses that can use it," he said.
Regardless of legality, Peterson said he wouldn't want UND using a name he considers unique to his high school. Peterson grew up a fan of the Fighting Sioux name and said, ideally, he'd like the school to continue playing as North Dakota.
"The uniqueness of (the Fighting Sioux) name really attracted me, and what I think is disappointing is Roughriders isn't that unique if you have it twice in the same town," he said.
Forum Communications asked online readers to vote on 15 name choices, and 33.6 percent of more than 8,000 votes were for keeping "North Dakota" as a name. Roughriders came in second with 16.34 percent, followed by North Stars with 16.15
Arason said he knows his alumni and students take a lot of pride in the Roughrider name, though he acknowledged there are college teams who have the same nicknames as some high schools.
"We're honored to have that name," Arason said. "I'm sure UND and the citizens of North Dakota and alumni may find that same unique connectedness with that name. I definitely understand that."
The principal at Grand Forks Central, Red River's crosstown rival, could not be reached by press time.
The nickname committee assigned negative 1, zero or 1 point to the nickname suggestions to judge nine qualities such as whether the name was a rallying symbol, easy to pronounce or represented the region, and Roughriders got the most points.
PadillaCRT, the company O'Keefe is working for, has been doing cursory trademark screenings as the list of possible nicknames has gotten shorter. He said attorneys weren't involved earlier because of the time-consuming nature of the task and possible cost.
"It would have been a lot more to do the 15 than to do it with five to seven names," O'Keefe said.
The state's eleven public universities are losing their in-house legal counsel July 1 to the Office of the Attorney General because of legislation passed earlier this year. UND spokesman Peter Johnson said regardless of when the nickname list is narrowed down, the university's legal representatives will vet the list.
Johnson said there hasn't been much talk about the possibility of taking a name a local high school also uses, though it could be discussed at future committee meetings.
"There's still time to address whatever needs to be addressed," he said.
The nickname committee's next meeting is open to the public and hasn't been scheduled yet.
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