NCAA says it won't attend meeting about Fighting Sioux nickname, logo

Scratch the Good Friday showdown over UND's Fighting Sioux nickname between North Dakota leaders and top officers of the NCAA. Citing the North Dakota Legislature's passage of a law requiring UND to keep the nickname, and the uncertainty that fol...

Statue outside Ralph Engelstad Arena

Scratch the Good Friday showdown over UND's Fighting Sioux nickname between North Dakota leaders and top officers of the NCAA.

Citing the North Dakota Legislature's passage of a law requiring UND to keep the nickname, and the uncertainty that followed concerning how the issue might be resolved, the NCAA has told university officials that it won't attend the scheduled meeting next Friday in Bismarck.

"Given the passage of HB 1263, it appears that the usage of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo has not been resolved between the institution and the state's executive and legislative branches," Bernard Franklin, the athletics association's vice president for membership, wrote in an email to UND President Robert Kelley.

"The difference of opinion seems to transcend the nickname/logo issue to the fundamental matters of governmental operation and authority," Franklin wrote. "The NCAA has no role in that discussion among state and university leaders scheduled for April 22 and so the NCAA believes it is appropriate to decline your invitation to attend that meeting."

Grant Shaft, vice president of the State Board of Higher Education, said he learned of the NCAA's decision late Thursday, and he believes Franklin and NCAA President Mark Emmert decided not to attend after learning from Kelley that the meeting likely would be open.


"I can assume it was due to that," Shaft said Friday. "No other circumstances have changed."

One more year of use

The post-legislative maneuvering apparently led to another significant development: Bill Goetz, chancellor of the North Dakota University System, announced Friday that UND will renew merchandise licenses for another year -- and use the Fighting Sioux nickname and American Indian head logo during the 2011-12 school year.

This was to have been the last year for the familiar and much-cherished name and logo. UND had been working toward their retirement in August, but transition committees were told to suspend their work after the Legislature acted.

Because the new law upended the transition timetable, UND asked to resume merchandise licensing, Goetz said, apparently to ensure it has what it needs in stock when the 2011-2012 year begins. The school had stopped approving new designs last October.

With regard to the failed sit-down with the NCAA, Shaft had said he favored a closed meeting because it would be more productive. After inquiries from reporters, Gov. Jack Dalrymple and some state legislators said they believe the meeting should be open to the public.

After receiving Franklin's notice, Kelley wrote on Thursday to Goetz, advising him that the April 22 meeting with the NCAA officials is off.

But because of the NCAA's declaration that it has "no role in the discussion between state and university leaders," Kelley told Goetz that "UND will need clarification concerning the relationship that the university will have with the NCAA regarding the impact of HB 1263 on the 2007 settlement agreement."


That agreement, negotiated for the state board by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, concluded a lawsuit the state had brought and gave the board three years to gain approval for UND's continued use of the nickname from the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribes. Standing Rock had not provided such an endorsement by the time the three-year deadline passed last year.

In an April 8 email advising Franklin of who was invited to attend the Bismarck meeting and informing him that it likely would be open, Kelley also spelled out what he hoped could be clarified by a face-to-face session.

Among issues raised by adoption of the nickname law, he said, are how that may affect positions to be taken by the NCAA, the North Dakota attorney general and the state board with regard to the 2007 settlement.

Kelley said he also wanted to hear the NCAA officials explain "consequences for the University of North Dakota as related to the apparent breach of the settlement agreement," and "the relationship of (UND) and the NCAA, including the ongoing transition of athletic programs to NCAA Division 1."

Shaft said he also wants clarification on whether the legislation is likely to bring new disciplinary action from the NCAA beyond possible sanctions specified in the 2007 settlement agreement.

Aug. 1 and the sanctions list

Backers of the nickname law, whose campaign to win approval included impassioned testimony before House and Senate committees and a deluge of emails to legislators, said they were confident UND and the state board could work out a new arrangement with the NCAA. Some scoffed at the threatened sanctions, which included not allowing UND to host post-season tournaments or wear jerseys bearing American Indian names or imagery in the post-season.

But some opponents of the legislative action warned that defiance could lead to greater penalties for UND, such as sidetracking the university's transition to Division I or even its membership in the nation's premiere athletic association. They also warned that UND could face increased difficulties in recruiting and scheduling competitions with other schools.


"We're fairly certain where we'll be on Aug. 1 -- back on the sanctions list," Shaft said. "I would like to hear it directly from them. I suppose they might want to wait until Aug. 1, but they're aware that we've suspended all transitions" from the Sioux name and logo.

Shaft said the board and UND "would like to know if there is anything else in the way of sanctions we should be prepared for. Maybe not, but for the board and the university to move forward we have to know that.

"As to whether there might be any room for negotiation -- will the NCAA relax now that we have the new law -- we think the leadership on that now has to be taken by the governor and the Legislature," he said.

"Supporters of the bill said again and again they wanted to engage the NCAA. That has to be driven by the legislative branch and the governor's office."

Shaft said Franklin's "won't attend" message to Kelley "underscores the fact that the NCAA isn't a body that just rolls over" when opposed. "We (the state board and the attorney general) learned this over a five-year period. Any thought that we were going to spell out our terms and the NCAA would just say OK, was wrong."

In addition to Dalrymple, Shaft, Kelley, Stenehjem, Goetz and the NCAA officers, invites to the April 22 meeting went to UND athletic director Brian Faison, state board president Jon Backes, House Majority Leader Al Carlson and Senate Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem.

In the April 8 email to Franklin, Kelley said that "requests have been made" that the minority leaders of the House and Senate and the tribal chairs of the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribes also be invited.

"Furthermore, the governor has recommended that the meeting be declared on open meeting in compliance with state law," Kelley wrote. "Members of the public may be in attendance as will state and local media."


Before the new state law was passed requiring it to keep its nickname and logo, UND was a year into a transition away from the Fighting Sioux name, at the direction of the state board.

In his Wednesday email to Kelley, Franklin noted that the NCAA and UND "have agreed to the parameters of the NCAA's Native American mascot policy and we remain ready to assist the institution in its implementation."

Through a spokesman, Kelley declined comment Friday. The spokesman said that Shaft would handle all media calls on the matter.

Dalrymple was inspecting flood preparations in southeast North Dakota on Friday and had made no statement concerning the NCAA decision.

In response to an email query late Friday, Carlson said, "Hopefully the Legislature and the governor will be able to meet (with NCAA officials) and explain our position in the near future."

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

What To Read Next
Get Local