BISMARCK — Some North Dakota lawmakers are hoping to have the Nickel Trophy once again grace the gridiron after it’s been out of circulation for almost 20 years.

The 75-pound trophy is a symbol of the rivalry between the North Dakota State University and University of North Dakota football teams. Both universities began playing for the trophy in 1938, and it's now in the possession of the State Historical Society. The teams have not vied for the trophy since UND won it after a heated 2003 game that ended in overtime.

The trophy is now at the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck where it is on display full time. With both schools back in the same football conference and therefore more likely to play each other going forward, North Dakota lawmakers are discussing amending a bill to have the universities once again contend for the trophy.

"It just made sense that we have a trophy between the two schools, and because of its rich history, what better trophy to allow them to play for than the Nickel Trophy once again," said Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, vice chairman of the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee who proposed the amendment.

The trophy itself has faced scrutiny, as one side has the image of a bison and the other a depiction of a Native American, which some consider insensitive. Last legislative session, lawmakers tasked UND and NDSU students with creating a new trophy, though as of December no announcements regarding a new trophy had been made.

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Discussions about amending the bill are still ongoing, but under Koppelman's amendment the state would automatically loan the trophy to the winning school as an "honorary" gesture for their performance in the football game. Under other proposals, the trophy would be awarded to the schools once both have reinstated the rivalry. At this point, it's unclear which proposal has the most support, Koppleman said.

Koppelman said the Nickel Trophy is under state ownership now, and because of this the Legislature has the discretion to reinstate the trophy.

The NDSU and UND football teams are set to play at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 20, in the Fargodome. With the legislation still under consideration, the teams will not compete for the trophy on Saturday.

Who do you think will win the football game between NDSU and UND?

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  • Bison

    43%

  • Fighting Hawks

    57%

As of Monday, March 15, NDSU and UND were hesitant to declare support for reinstating the trophy.

"NDSU is fully supportive of its move to and permanent display in the Heritage Center," NDSU spokeswoman Brynn Rawlings said in a statement.

UND said it has not been in any official conversations about reinstating the trophy.

"The University of North Dakota appreciates what the now-retired Nickel trophy represents to many North Dakotans and alumni of UND and NDSU," UND spokesman David Dodds said in a statement.

In 2017, North Dakota legislators passed a bill encouraging both universities to play for the trophy "to promote national recognition and statewide enthusiasm," but if neither school decided to play for it, the Nickel Trophy must "be permanently displayed in the heritage center." Neither school has opted to play for or display the trophy since the 2017 bill was adopted.

The legislation being considered in the current session, Senate Bill 2063, as it is originally written would get rid of the word "permanently" to remove the requirement that the trophy be displayed full time at the heritage center, as to allow the State Historical Society to "rest" the trophy, or give it time away from the elements, said Bill Peterson, director of the State Historical Society.

Rep. Jim Kasper, chairman of the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee, said he supports reviving the trophy tradition. "I'm sure the students would love it if we could play for the Nickel Trophy again," Kasper said.

The original version of the bill to simply change the language around the display of the trophy passed the Senate in a 44-3 vote in January.

Amendments to reinstate playing for the trophy have not been adopted yet, but the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee is expected to have conversations about doing so later this week.

Readers can reach Forum News Service reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.