The University of North Dakota must retire the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo starting Oct. 1 unless the university can get not only the blessings of the two namesake tribes but a 30-year agreement with those tribes, the State Board of Higher Education decided Thursday.
It's a condition that appears all but impossible given the reality of tribal divisions, the timing of elections on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and the extensive negotiations that would be necessary for such a long-term agreement.
The board weighed the nickname, which has been a UND tradition since the 1930s, against a historic opportunity to be a part of the Summit League athletic conference, which includes traditional rival, North Dakota State University, and, beginning in 2001, the University of South Dakota.
Grant Shaft and Duaine Espegard, Grand Forks, told fellow board members the board they'd visited with league Commissioner Tom Douple in Chicago a few weeks ago and were told: there is space for one university left in the league and six universities have already applied, one of which Douple said "had national recognition."
Douple also made it clear, Shaft said, that there is no guarantee UND will get in the league with the nickname gone. Still, Shaft said he believes it would make the most logical sense, considering how Douple wants to consolidate the league in the Dakotas.
It also would make a lot of sense for UND on multiple levels -- stronger fan enthusiasm in competition against old rivals being one, Shaft said, basing his comments on conversations with UND athletic director Brian Faison.
Initially, Shaft recommended an Aug. 1 deadline to begin retiring the nickname. Board member Pam Kostelecky felt Oct. 1 would be better because it would give Standing Rock nickname supporters a chance to issue a referendum either at the July 15 primary election or the Sept. 15 tribal election.
The Spirit Lake tribe voted last month overwhelmingly to support the nickname.
The full retirement of the nickname would have to be done by Aug. 1, 2010.
Originally, under a timetable laid out by the state board, UND had until February 2010 to win the blessings of the namesake tribes. If not, it was to fully retire the nickname by Nov. 30, 2010, as required by the legal settlement between UND and the NCAA, which opposes Indian nicknames.
UND will wrap up its first season in Division I athletics this weekend. The school's second D-I season, set to begin in late August, likely will be the last in which UND uses the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.
A number of UND coaches were resigned to that fact after action taken by the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education.
To gain approval from the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock tribal councils by Oct. 1 is possible but appears unlikely considering the long-standing controversy surrounding UND's use of the nickname and logo.
"Obviously, it's a tough day for Sioux fans," UND football coach Chris Mussman said. "I think this was inevitable. You could see the writing on the wall after the settlement with the NCAA.
"It's one of those disappointing days, but it's the state board's call and we have to abide by it and move forward. We want to move forward in a positive manner."
It was a tough day for the UND men's hockey program as well.
UND hockey -- perhaps more than any other athletic program on campus -- has the strongest ties to the Sioux nickname and Indian head logo.
UND coach Dave Hakstol, however, said he had no comment on the board's decision. The Sioux coach was attending a UND alumni function in Las Vegas when the board made its decision.
UND football safety Joel Schwenzfeier says Sioux players had been warned that the nickname-logo could be retired. He had witnessed some of the Sioux gear, such as travel sweats and workout uniforms, being issued without the logo and nickname on it.
And the Sioux football jerseys won't have the logo on them next fall.
"We've kind of had to deal with it our whole time here, so we've kind of adapted, adjusted," Schwenzfeier said. "Initially, it's going to be tough. I think eventually it will bury itself in the ground."
He says the nickname is used with respect.
"It's never used as a negative term," he said. "It's usually the other teams or other institutions that slander it."
Ryan Duncan, who just completed his final season as a member of the UND men's hockey team as one of the all-time Sioux greats, has a hard time understanding why the change is needed.
"This institution does a good job of representing the Sioux and what they stand for," Duncan said. "I don't think the nickname or logo is hostile or abusive.
"It would definitely be a sad day if they took the logo. . . . I'm actually surprised it happened so fast. You always hear rumblings, but it seems like everything gets appealed and it's going to be put off and put off again."
If UND's Fighting Sioux nickname and logo were to go away, it could have a profound effect on Ralph Engelstad Arena, home to UND's Fighting Sioux hockey team and 2,400 Sioux logos.
Engelstad the man was nothing if not insistent that the university keep the controversial nickname, and his family and those that run the arena have fought to honor his wishes.
Friday, we asked for a reaction from Jody Hodgson, the arena's general manager and a representative of the Engelstad Family Foundation.
He said, among other things, that the arena's preference, no matter the outcome, is to avoid any changes, such as removal of the logos. If changes were needed, he said, the arena won't pay the more than $1 million cost.
The legal settlement between the state and the NCAA, which opposes Indian nicknames and imagery, requires the removal of many Sioux logos in the arena before UND can host a post-season game there. The settlement originally set a Nov. 30, 2010 deadline to get tribal approval to use the name.
Thursday's decision by the State Board of Higher Education to require not just approval but a 30-year agreement on the use of the nickname by Oct. 1 appears difficult to fulfill.
Hodgson acknowledges it would be a challenge, but said nickname supporters would fight on.
He also expressed disappointment with disparaging comments toward Sioux people made by some nickname supporters in the wake of the state decision. They should remember two-thirds of Spirit Lake voters supported the nickname, he said.
If UND had to drop the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo and the privately-owned Ralph Engelstad Arena wanted to host NCAA post-season games, it would have to remove many of the 2,400 logos it now contains.
What would stay and what would have to go?
The legal settlement between the state and the NCAA, which opposes Indian nicknames, says "images commonly associated with Native American culture" are not allowed, except these:
- Images of historical significance: These include championship banners, photos, trophies and statues, such as the Sitting Bull statue in front.
- Images that would be cost prohibitive to remove, namely the logos in the granite floor.
- Images the arena may replace over time: These include carpeting, turf, wood flooring, medallions on the seats and railings, lighted logos outside and etched glass door. Each item has a timetable for replacement from the end of 2011 to the end of 2015.
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