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Struggle to preserve Fighting Sioux nears end
BISMARCK, N.D.— Six years after the NCAA deemed it hostile to American Indians, the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname has hardly gone quietly through the courts or the state Legislature.
But the end of its life was in sight Wednesday, as the North Dakota House voted to give final approval to legislation that would allow the school to drop the nickname and its logo, which shows the profile of an American Indian warrior.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple has said he will sign the measure.
State law that took effect last March requires UND teams to be known as the Fighting Sioux, but the law has caused scheduling problems and could affect the school’s bid to join the Big Sky Conference. Since August, the NCAA has banned UND from hosting postseason tournaments and has said the school’s athletes may not wear uniforms with the nickname or logo during postseason play.
Although the measure approved Wednesday prohibits the school from adopting a new nickname or logo until January 2015, UND may in the meantime retire its contentious moniker, which it has used for athletics since the 1930s.
“Being forced to change what you’re called doesn’t mean changing who you are,” said Democratic Sen. Mac Schneider of Grand Forks, a former UND offensive lineman. “We are the University of North Dakota, and we’ll always be fighting.”
Some schools were allowed to keep their nicknames, provided they received tribal support. In UND’s case, the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe endorsed using the nickname and logo but the Standing Rock Sioux’s tribal council declined to support it.
Cheered on by nickname supporters, the school sued the NCAA to allow it to keep the moniker. The lawsuit was later settled out of court.
Brian Faison, the university’s athletics director, has said the nickname’s continued use has made it difficult to schedule some rival schools, including Minnesota and Wisconsin, and has cast doubt on whether UND will be allowed to join the Big Sky Conference in July.
Minnesota, Wisconsin and some other schools already have policies that discourage playing other schools with nicknames that are considered offensive, Mr. Faison said. As part of the NCAA sanctions, the association has also encouraged members not to play the UND Fighting Sioux, and that has influenced Big Sky conference members, he said.
The North Dakota Senate voted 39-7 on Tuesday night to approve the legislation allowing the school to drop the name. The House followed suit Wednesday, approving the measure on a 63-31 votes.
“I think we can agree that the NCAA has been frustratingly obstinate on this issue,” Rep. Stacey Dahl, Grand Forks Republican, said during Wednesday’s debate. “We now know that we face a new reality … and it’s not in anybody’s best interest to see a top-notch university’s athletic program diminished in any way.”
Miss Dahl wrote a provision in the bill that requires UND to wait three years before adopting a new nickname and logo.
The university and the North Dakota Board of Higher Education did not object to Miss Dahl’s proposal, board president Grant Shaft said.
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