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UND nickname likely won't be retired today

GRAND FORKS -- There's a good chance the State Board of Higher Education won't retire UND's Fighting Sioux nickname when it meets today at the university, even though the state attorney general has said that it can, a board member told the Herald.

Several factors are in play, said Grant Shaft, a Grand Forks attorney who has been deeply involved in the issue.

For one thing, the board had wanted to lay the issue to rest by the end of 2009 for the sake of UND's ambitions of joining the Summit League athletic conference. The league has said it won't consider any membership application so long as the issue is unresolved.

UND had wanted to get in as soon as possible so it could start scheduling games.

Now that it's 2010, the damage may already be done.

The board will likely discuss this matter with UND Athletic Director Brian Faison today, Shaft said.

The meeting begins at 10 a.m. at the university's Memorial Union.


This would be the first time Faison speaks to the full board about the nickname, though he'd spoken with individual board members before, including Shaft. It was during these visits that Faison, who maintains contact with the Summit League, passed on to the board UND's sense of urgency.

The Herald has tried to contact Summit League Commissioner Tom Douple numerous times in the past to inquire about this with no response. Queries to Summit League member universities were directed back at Douple.

So, it's never been clear why the league is so insistent on the resolution of the nickname issue when it would be a moot point by Nov. 30, 2010.

That's the deadline in the settlement between the state and the NCAA, which considers American Indian nicknames offensive. If UND can not win the support of both the state's Sioux tribes by then, the nickname will have to go, according to the settlement.

Supreme Court

The board set its own deadline of Oct. 31, 2009, to speed up UND's Summit League application. But with just approval from the Spirit Lake Dakotah Nation, and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe unwilling to abide by the new deadline, the board appeared ready to ditch the nickname.

Nickname supporters from Spirit Lake sued the state board in November to prevent that from happening and to buy time for fellow supporters at Standing Rock.

Judge Michael G. Sturdevant dismissed the lawsuit, but the supporters have appealed to the state Supreme Court. No decision appears likely before March, assuming either the state or the supporters seek an expedited decision.

If the board was to retire the nickname today and the Supreme Court sided with the plaintiffs, the board would have to reverse itself, Shaft said. It's just not a good idea to do that with major policy decisions, he said.