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STILL THE SIOUX: As transition begins, UND faces 'amazing array' of questions

For a dozen more days -- for one more football game, four more men's hockey games, a volleyball tournament, a few gatherings of kids clubs and boosters -- they are still the Fighting Sioux.

For a dozen more days -- for one more football game, four more men's hockey games, a volleyball tournament, a few gatherings of kids clubs and boosters -- they are still the Fighting Sioux.

And then what?

The men's hockey team -- the university's marquee sports attraction -- will continue to take the ice wearing the familiar name and logo into February, as replacement jerseys won't arrive until then.

And it's a fair bet the logo will be everywhere in Ralph Engelstad Arena, on the walls and floors and fans, until then and long after. Nor does anybody expect the anthem to end with anything but "home of the SIOUX!" anytime soon.

But with legislative action, State Board of Higher Education directives, athletic conference worries, federal lawsuits and now the possibility of a referendum or a constitutional amendment, uncertainty continues to hang heavy.

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The repeal bill adopted 10 days ago by the North Dakota Legislature takes effect on Dec. 1, releasing UND from the state mandate that it continue to call its athletic teams the Fighting Sioux in defiance of the NCAA, which opposes the use of American Indian nicknames.

The higher education board has instructed the university to have a transition substantially completed by Dec. 31. But the repeal bill also directed UND not to adopt a new nickname and associated logo until 2015.

Boosters and bag tags

So what happens to the Sioux Crew, the Sioux Kids Club (which continued to advertise this week for new members), and everything else Sioux?

"We've talked about it quite a bit over the past week or so, and we still have a lot to finalize," said Brian Faison, UND's athletic director.

"It's an amazing array of things we have to sort through in a short time," he said, "everything from our web site (FightingSioux.com) to the bag tags we use for team travel to the Sioux Crew," the official student athletic booster organization.

"It's a challenge on a lot of levels because we're in the middle of the year for a lot of our teams, and some things contractually can't be addressed until the end of the (academic) year. That includes marketing contracts with the Sioux Kids Club and the Fighting Sioux Sports Network.

"We'll honor the contracts," Faison said, "and when they're up in the spring, we'll work through that."

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The hockey team "will continue to wear Fighting Sioux jerseys until February," he said, but he declined to describe the replacement jerseys in detail.

"They will certainly have 'North Dakota' on them," he said, and the interlocking ND has been on the jerseys for some time.

"We'll be at the tail end of our season then, and we'll make the switch when we've got the new ones. And we have to have them for NCAA post-season play."

Does he worry about fan response?

"A lot of fans are going to hang onto the Sioux name whether it's a year or three years or many years" before a new nickname and logo take hold, Faison said. "But this is about the team and the players, and I would hope the fans will support the team."

A road map

UND President Robert Kelley has said he will not revive the committees that were advising him on the transition before the Legislature entered the fray early this year.

"But they provided a road map for him to follow," spokesman Peter Johnson said, "and he has that information in possession about how the university should proceed. I think he feels he has a good road map."

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The most active transition panel was examining use of the Sioux name for non-athletic organizations and events, and it recommended that the name be discontinued for most of them, from the ROTC battalion to a breast cancer awareness group and the university laundry.

"I'm not aware of any steps that have been taken with those yet," Johnson said. "The president does have those recommendations, but as to how they will be implemented, stay tuned."

The "honoring and preserving" task force also was charged with developing a plan to archive the history of the Sioux name and associated logos at UND.

"Nobody has been assigned that yet," Johnson said. "We will be working with the Department of Special Collections at Chester Fritz Library. We have some 80 years of history that we need to find a way to commemorate, and some of that has happened with Special Collections anyway as part of their work in documenting the history of the university."

UND's copyright, REA traditions

UND, which holds the copyright on the Fighting Sioux logo, also must devise plans to retain it.

"It's stipulated in the agreement we have with the NCAA (settling the 2007 lawsuit) that we have to maintain control" of the copyrights, Johnson said, "and the only way to do that is to make use of those periodically.

"Exactly how we do that was never determined. But you can't just say we're going to hang onto them and put them in a desk drawer somewhere. You have to make some periodic use, and it has to be in some way that commerce is involved. One example would be a commemorative piece of clothing. But no framework for that has been adopted."

Johnson said he is not aware of conversations between university and Ralph Engelstad Arena officials about such things as how the hockey team is introduced and whether they will continue to show the video that extols the virtues of the Sioux people and urges fans to use the name with respect and honor.

"I suspect they'll be happy to work with us in any way we need to work together to move forward," he said. "Maybe 'happy' isn't the right word. But I don't see any issues there."

While the arena with its thousands of Sioux logos, banners and emblems is privately owned, "the game and what happens in that time period belongs to the university," he said.

Chris Semrau, director of events and media relations at REA, said he couldn't comment on changes likely or possible there, or when they might occur.

"The short answer is we don't know," he said. "We have not been notified of any necessary changes as of yet."

It's up to UND

Two Grand Forks legislators who spoke with emotion during last week's special session about the great fondness and broad support for the nickname -- but the need they see to retire it -- said that how to handle the transition is a university responsibility.

"This really is a call for UND administrators," Democratic Sen. Mac Schneider said, "but the process should respect tradition and the strong feelings UND students and supporters have towards the name and logo."

Like Schneider, Republican Rep. Stacey Dahl represents District 42, which includes UND.

"I agree with Mac," she said. "I know the university has made a significant effort to reach out to the community for ideas to respectfully retire the name and logo, and I am confident they will do that with honor and dignity."

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send email to chaga@gfherald.com .

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