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North Dakota hockey team's nickname won't be on display at regional

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North Dakota hockey team's nickname won't be on display at regional
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GRAND FORKS - As the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux hockey team heads back to St. Paul for the NCAA tournament this weekend, two extra "referees" will be watching: the NCAA itself, which has banned the beleaguered nickname and logo from tournament play, and the state of North Dakota, which by law requires that the team be known as the Fighting Sioux.

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"We are walking a tightrope here," UND President Robert Kelley said. "We will do everything we can to walk that fine line.

"We will still be competing officially as the Fighting Sioux, but you won't hear any 'Here come the Fighting Sioux' announcements or see the logo in the program."

The team will wear new sweaters, without the name and logo.

"It's pretty simple," Athletic Director Brian Faison said. "We have to wear the new uniforms or we forfeit."

The new uniforms have arrived, Faison said, and will make its debut Saturday night when North Dakota takes to the ice against Western Michigan. "I think they look fine."

Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, who as majority leader wrote the nickname law and steered it through the Legislature last year, said he has no problem with the university's tightrope walk. "That's just fine, what they're doing."

"The law never said they had to wear the jerseys," Carlson said. "The law says they are the Fighting Sioux, but nobody was ever expecting them to have to go in and create a special problem by wearing the jersey." He also said he is "happy the team is there, and I wish them the best of success."

Twists, turns

The NCAA adopted a policy in 2005 against the use of American Indian names and imagery by member schools. It exempted a few schools that demonstrated support by namesake tribes, and in a 2007 legal settlement, it offered a similar deal to UND.

The university and the State Board of Higher Education had three years to gain nickname approval from the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux. Spirit Lake gave its consent in 2009, but Standing Rock refused to reverse its longstanding opposition.

As the university worked on a transition away from the Fighting Sioux name, the 2011 Legislature adopted the law requiring its retention, hoping that would persuade the NCAA to back off. It did not, and the sanctions went into effect.

The nickname law was repealed in November but reinstated when supporters filed petitions last month to refer the repeal. At the moment, however, the state Supreme Court is considering a challenge to the law brought by the state board.

Ban on logos

The sanctions came into play last weekend during the women's hockey championship, where UND skaters competed in uniforms without the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

No UND team picture appeared in the official tournament program because the team's pictures showed them in Sioux gear.

"We were offered the opportunity to submit a new picture with the new jerseys," coach Brian Idalski said. "But we just didn't have the time to make that happen."

The proscription against the wearing or displaying of Fighting Sioux logos or the name - from jerseys to luggage tags - extends to coaches and support staff as well as members of the spirit band and cheerleaders.

The sanctions were outlined in the 2007 settlement agreement and have been known since then. Bernard Franklin, an NCAA vice president, reviewed the restrictions in a letter last week to Kelley, in which he asked "that the university take measures to minimize or eliminate the presence of the imagery or nickname brought to an NCAA championship venue."

Fans not affected

Kelley said he's been asked by fans planning to attend tournament games whether they can wear Sioux jerseys.

"I've told them it's perfectly alright," he said. "Our issues are strictly with the team, cheerleaders and band."

On several occasions during the interrupted nickname transition, Kelley assured students that UND understands the passions involved and would not police the wearing of jerseys.

"It's not the responsibility of a university president to tell students or faculty or fans what to wear," he repeated Monday. "To be in compliance with the NCAA, we have to follow their rules." But if the NCAA were to ask the university to tell fans to leave their Sioux regalia at home, "I would have to push back on that."

But he said the NCAA leaders "have been fairly silent on the presentation of our fans."

He said the university will "find some apparel that says ND or North Dakota" and provide that to the band.

"It's a fine line," he said. "We certainly don't want to violate the law, and we will not violate the law. But officially, by state law, we are the Fighting Sioux.

"I'm very proud of that team," he said. "They have come together very well, and we're doing everything we can to permit them to compete at the highest levels."

Chuck Haga is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which like the Bemidji Pioneer is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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