Kelley to NCAA: Give UND more time to deal with arena changes

UND President Robert Kelley has asked the NCAA for more time to deal with physical changes that may be required at Ralph Engelstad Arena within the settlement agreement that ended the university's lawsuit against the athletics association.

Nickname transition meeting
UND President Robert Kelley (right) addresses his "transition cabinet" during the first meeting of the group formed to advise Kelley on the transition from the Fighting Sioux nickname. At left are cabinet members Scott Gulseth (left) and Grand Shaft. Herald photo by John Stennes.

UND President Robert Kelley has asked the NCAA for more time to deal with physical changes that may be required at Ralph Engelstad Arena within the settlement agreement that ended the university's lawsuit against the athletics association.

He also expressed concern about "the profound negative, deleterious effect" he fears recent legislative involvement in the long contentious nickname issue could have on the university.

During a break in his first meeting with members of a "transition cabinet" appointed to help him manage the retirement of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, Kelley said he asked for an amendment to the 2007 settlement agreement to give UND until 2015 to resolve physical issues concerning REA's qualification as a site for NCAA-sanctioned playoff games.

The request, which Kelley said the NCAA is considering, was made Thursday when he called to update NCAA officials on actions at the North Dakota Legislature concerning the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

A bill mandating that UND retain the nickname received favorable committee action Tuesday and is expected to reach the House floor early next week. The measure also would instruct Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to sue the NCAA -- again -- if the association tried to penalize UND for retaining the symbols.


Directed by the State Board of Higher Education last April to begin the transition, Kelley formed two task groups, one to ensure the process was open and another to consider ways of honoring the history and traditions of the name and logo.

The history group also was to examine what may be required of the university and its relationship with REA in light of the settlement agreement, but Kelley indicated during his cabinet meeting Friday that the assignment will be on temporary hold.

The settlement agreement specifies some American Indian-themed features at the privately-owned REA could remain because they have "historical significance" or would be prohibitively expensive to change. But without tribal authorization for UND to retain the imagery, other features should go for REA to host an NCAA post-season event.

"There are specific alterations to Ralph Engelstad Arena to be done this year" according to the settlement agreement, Kelley said. "I asked for some time, that no alterations be required until 2015."

Kelley said his request was due in part to his desire "to minimize the costs" of those alterations, but it also reflected uncertainty brought by the legislative activity -- uncertainty that the president said threatens to damage the university.

"The confusion right now is not helpful," he said. "The lack of certainty is not helpful."

Kelley said he has conveyed that message in recent days to members of Grand Forks' legislative delegation and others.

"I've tried to be sensitive to all points of view" in the sometimes bitter debate, he said, but "I am following the directive from the State Board of Higher Education. I don't oppose the directive of the State Board. We don't need more and more diversions from our core mission."


When to seek new nickname, logo?

Kelley has delayed formation of a third transition panel, a "new directions" task group which would lay the groundwork for a new logo and nickname, and he got some varied advice on that Friday from his transition cabinet.

Former North Dakota governors Al Olson and Ed Schafer and former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan -- all UND graduates -- are members of the cabinet, which also includes students, faculty and staff representatives, alumni and representatives of American Indian communities on and off-campus. Grant Shaft, a Grand Forks attorney and member of the State Board of Higher Education, also sits in the cabinet.

The chairmen of the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribes were invited to join the advisory panel or send representatives, but neither has responded, Kelley said.

The history and traditions task group recently forwarded recommendations to Kelley concerning the use of "Sioux" or "Fighting Sioux" by non-athletic groups, offices and activities at UND, including a laundry service, the ROTC battalion and a breast cancer awareness group.

But members of the transition cabinet spent more time Friday discussing the task group that hasn't been formed, with some -- including Indian representatives --arguing that UND should move faster toward choosing new symbols to end the distraction and divisiveness the debate has caused in Indian Country.

Kelley has said the university will use "North Dakota" and an interlocking ND to identify its athletic teams after Aug. 15, when the transition away from Fighting Sioux is to be complete.

Former Gov. Schafer told Kelley that "the most orderly transition is when you go from Point A to Point B, from one name to the new," and "you have to kick-start this process to develop a new name.


"I want to hold onto the Sioux name as long as I can," he said. "But I can't make a judgment about a new one when the new one is not there."

Former Gov. Olson, participating via telephone from his home in Arizona, suggested that many North Dakotans are wondering why the university feels compelled to move as fast as it has, especially given the revival of the nickname issue at the Legislature.

"That is the representative body of the state of North Dakota, and what they say and do has to be taken into consideration," he said.

Olson also expressed concern about the effect the controversy is having on UND's current major fundraising campaign, as many potential donors have strong feelings about the Fighting Sioux name and logo.

Tim O'Keefe, executive director of the UND Alumni Association, agreed that there are potential costs to stretching the transition out over several years. "I think this president has a great agenda ... that's being impaired," he said. The nickname issue dominates discussions he has with alumni around the country, and consequently "they're not talking about the many great things that are happening here."

But a great many of UND's 112,000 alumni "are in mourning," O'Keefe said.

"There is an uncommon passion among our alumni for the university, and they're not going to disassociate themselves from UND over this. They say, 'We'll be North Dakota. We're proud to be North Dakota. But we don't want to (quickly) replace something that's been near and dear to us.' "

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to .

What To Read Next
Get Local