The end may finally be near for the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.
After a six-year battle, the state appears ready to declare defeat and retire the nickname, which was deemed unacceptable by the NCAA in 2005. The Fighting Sioux has been associated with the university's athletic teams since 1930.
State Sen. Lonnie Laffen, a Republican who voted earlier this year to codify the nickname into law, recently told the Grand Forks Herald that he will sponsor legislation to shift authority over the issue to the State Board of Higher Education.
"Having met with the NCAA and seeing what penalties are coming up, it appears the option for the university is to keep the name and not play," Mr. Laffen said. "We can't allow that. Once we get to the point we're now at, I think the only option we have is to change the name so we can play."
The board voted Aug. 15 to retire the Fighting Sioux by the end of the year after NCAA officials refused to yield on the issue at a meeting with top North Dakota government and education leaders, including Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple.
The threat of continued NCAA sanctions against the university's highly ranked Division l hockey team, as well as the prospect of losing its affiliation with the Big Sky conference in 2012, convinced state education and government leaders that the cost of keeping the Fighting Sioux was too high.
"Our athletic program will not succeed in the long run, and UND's national reputation will suffer," University President Robert Kelley said in remarks last week at his annual breakfast address.
The UND men's hockey team is currently ranked fifth in the nation, according to the latest coaches' poll, and its success is a source of intense pride in the sparsely populated state.
With state officials apparently resigned to the move, the biggest resistance to retiring the nickname now comes from the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe.
In a statement issued Oct. 13, a tribal committee urged the state officials to keep the Fighting Sioux and warned that if they did not, there would be "consequences far more severe than any sanctions UND claims will exist by keeping our name."
The committee criticized state and NCAA leaders for failing to include the Sioux in the decision-making process and called the NCAA policy prohibiting Indian nicknames for university sports teams "racist."
"Indeed, we have no choice but to conclude that the only time a Native American voice is heard on this matter is when it comes from the mouths of the small minority who conveniently share the views of the politically correct academic elite and the crafters of this policy," said the statement from the tribe's Committee for Understanding and Respect.
In 2005, the NCAA instituted a ban on "hostile" Indian nicknames, mascots and logos, and threatened sanctions against schools that kept their mascots unless they received the permission of the namesake tribe. North Dakota is the last school in the nation to comply with the policy.
The university received the blessing of the Spirit Lake Sioux but not the Standing Rock Sioux, the two North Dakota namesake tribes. The Spirit Lake Sioux backed the nickname with 67 percent of the vote in a 2008 referendum, while the Standing Rock Sioux council has never placed the issue before the tribe for a vote.
The legislature is scheduled to begin meeting in special session Nov. 7 to deal primarily with issues such as redistricting and flood control, but the governor has said he expects lawmakers to approve a bill during the session allowing the board to retire the nickname.
The NCAA placed the university under sanctions Aug. 15, and Mr. Kelley said he worried that the penalties would make it increasingly difficult for the school to compete against other top athletic programs.
"In the long run, these sanctions, and the responses of other NCAA member institutions as a result of these sanctions, will be detrimental to UND athletics," said Mr. Kelley in his address. "Conference affiliation will become increasingly problematic, and scheduling, recruitment of top athletes and retention of top coaching staff will become harder and harder."
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