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N.D. board approves nickname action plan

The North Dakota Board of Higher Education unanimously approved an "action plan" Thursday that sketches a structure for state officials to formally seek support from the state's Sioux tribes for use of the school's nickname and logo while also se...

The North Dakota Board of Higher Education unanimously approved an "action plan" Thursday that sketches a structure for state officials to formally seek support from the state's Sioux tribes for use of the school's nickname and logo while also setting up a deadline for UND to begin the change to a new name and logo.

An agreement reached a year ago with the NCAA ended a lawsuit and gave UND three years to win approval from the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock tribes or quit using the Fighting Sioux name and logo in order to continue to host NCAA tournaments and play in post-season games.

Under the plan proposed by board member Duaine Espegard of Grand Forks and approved Thursday, a committee of high-level officials from the state would be formed by January 2009 to meet with tribal leaders. If tribal approval does not look forthcoming by January 2010, the plan directs UND to form a transition team to prepare for changing the name and logo by Nov. 30, 2010, the date set by the NCAA agreement.

Several amendments were made to Espegard's action plan, including softening language that stipulated Chancellor William Goetz would, by January 2009, "appoint a committee at a high level within the University system and the state of North Dakota to meet with the leaders of both Sioux nations."

The word "appoint" was changed to "form," because the committee is a voluntary one, board members said.


The list of names and offices Espegard suggested for the committee, including Gov. John Hoeven, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Sens. Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, UND's president and two American Indian representatives, one "pro-logo" and one "anti-logo," was deleted.

But board member Pam Kostelecky said she thought that including the names would "put the onus," on those people that they might not appreciate, forcing them, more or less, to agree to serve on the committee.

Espegard agreed to the amendment, saying his intent simply is to have "the highest level of government" in the state be represented on the committee, "out of respect for the sovereign nations of the tribes."

Wording that the committee would "attempt" to meet with tribal leaders also was inserted, because it's possible tribal leaders will refuse to take part, board members said.

Espegard said his intent in drafting the plan was to make clear that the board has the responsibility for dealing with UND's name and logo under the agreement with the NCAA, and "take the pressure" off UND officials. UND President Robert Kelley listened in on most of the board meeting. Some of the transition will be practical, such as ordering new uniforms, which needs to be done months in advance, Espegard said. His plan doesn't "speed up" the time allowed to win tribal support, because that effort can continue during the transition period, Espegard said.

It became clear during the board's discussion that all the members aren't clear on what the agreement with the NCAA requires of UND, time wise, if the name and logo do have to be changed.

The starting date for implementing the name change is Nov. 30, 2010, but there's a transition period until Aug. 15, 2011 for the change to be completed, Pat Seaworth, board attorney, explained.

But whether that would allow UND to use the name and logo for postseason play and tournaments until Aug. 15, 2011 wasn't clear, several board members said. They instructed Seaworth to get clarification from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.


The board approved an addition by board member Grant Shaft of Grand Forks to make clear the board can adjust the plan if circumstances, such as other universities refusing to play UND because of the name and logo, warrant. The amendment was approved.

Also added was direction to Goetz to provide bi-monthly updates to the board on the progress of the action plan. Goetz told the board that he has met with heads of both Sioux tribes, at Standing Rock and at Spirit Lake, and they have not indicated there is any hope of winning their approval for UND's use of the name and logo.

Jon Jackson, the faculty representative to the board and a UND professor, told the board he liked the action plan because "these student athletes deserve closure."

Shaft said the board's action respects all parties, giving alumni and other nickname supporters, including Ralph Engelstad Arena, more structure to win tribal support, while also recognizing the need for UND to address the ongoing controversy that divides the campus.

Jody Hodgson, general manager of REA, which has been the focus of much of the controversy over the name and logo, was at UND to listen in on the board's teleconference.

Although the board seemed intent mostly on pragmatically getting ready for a change many see as likely, Hodgson has hope for his position.

He said the board's action, despite the transition date, contained "a positive step" in that, for the first time, a committee of state leaders will be formed to meet formally with tribal leaders.

"I'm optimistic that we finally are going to get the people together around the table that need to be at the table. That's what's been lacking."


The REA, a private nonprofit, houses the UND hockey, basketball and volleyball teams in two arenas on UND's campus which strongly supports continued use of the name and logo, as UND alumnus and donor, the late Ralph Engelstad, demanded.

The REA continues to keep communication with tribal members seeking to win support, but Hodgson didn't use confrontational language when asked how REA will handle the transition process.

"We're a support institution to UND," he said. "They are our business partner and we will continue to work with the university to do what is best."

He was encouraged by the board's emphasis that the plan approved Thursday would not shorten the timeline of seeking tribal approval for keeping the name and logo, Hodgson said.

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to slee@gfherald.com

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