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The University of North Dakota is between a rock and a hard place.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has ordered the school to drop its “Fighting Sioux” moniker and accompanying regalia. The state of North Dakota demands that its flagship university retain the nickname and iconic Indian-head logo. If UND satisfies the NCAA, it breaks state law. If UND obeys the law, the school faces athletic sanctions.
A meeting between the NCAA, state officials, and university administrators will take place on August 12. Three days later, the NCAA may initiate sanctions.
The August 15 deadline looms. Whatever the decision, the university will invoke the wrath of a powerful entity.
“The NCAA’s Native American mascot policy remains in effect, and we stand ready to assist the University of North Dakota with its implementation of the policy,” the collegiate athletic sanctioning body announced last month. “If the University of North Dakota continues to use the nickname and logo past the August 15 deadline due to state law, it will be subject to the parameters of the policy. This means the university could not host any championships or use the nickname and logo at any championship events.”
The NCAA bans logos and nicknames it deems “hostile and abusive” from appearing in postseason contests. Since the policy’s implementation in 2005, the nicknames targeted as “hostile and abusive” to the ethnicities they ostensibly pay homage to have been uniformly monikers and logos that reference Native Americans. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Holy Cross Crusaders, the University of Southern California Trojans, and scores of other team names that conjure up bellicose ethnic imagery have escaped the NCAA’s blacklist.
Efforts to ditch the “Fighting Sioux” predate the NCAA policy. In the midst of building a $100-million-dollar arena (which opened in 2001) for the school, alumnus Ralph Englestad threatened to cease construction because of the possibility that the school’s president would kill off the nickname. “I do not understand where one person gets the authority to make this kind of a decision on behalf of all alumni, students, the city of Grand Forks and the state of North Dakota,” Englestad wrote then UND President Charkes Kupchella. He bluntly continued, “It’s a good thing that you are an educator because you are a man of indecision, and if you were a businessman, you would not succeed, you would be broke immediately.” To ensure the Fighting Sioux’s survival, Englestad directed thousands of difficult-to-remove Indian-head logos to be inscribed, imprinted, emblazoned, and embossed throughout the pricey sports complex. With pressure relieved from the death of UND’s most generous donor, and under added pressure from the NCAA, the North Dakota board of higher education voted to drop the name and logo in the spring of 2010. This prompted the state legislature to pass a law retaining the Fighting Sioux name.
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