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By Dave Kolpack, Associated Press Writer, Published January 17 2010

UND nickname, mascot fight goes into overtime

Some University of North Dakota officials were hoping that a long-running dispute over the school’s Fighting Sioux nickname would be settled this week. Now it appears it could continue for several months.

A state judge ruled last month that the North Dakota Board of Higher Education has the power to drop the Fighting Sioux nickname and Indian head logo before a November deadline set as part of a settlement with the NCAA.

The board promptly moved Thursday’s regularly scheduled meeting – originally to be conducted by conference call – to the university’s campus in Grand Forks to discuss plans to officially retire the moniker.

But the issue might not be debated for long.

Patrick Morley, the attorney for a Spirit Lake Sioux group that sued to keep the nickname, filed an appeal late Friday to the state Supreme Court. Morley did not return repeated phone calls by The Associated Press.

“We want to do what’s in the best interest of UND, and then after that, the best interest of the alumni and the state,” said board President Richie Smith, “and the Native Americans are included in that group.”

Smith, himself a lawyer, said it’s possible the appeal could be decided quickly. Until then, he said, “Our hands are tied.”

So, too, are the hands of athletic department officials hoping to get their teams into the Summit League conference and schedule games against schools that are waiting until the nickname issue is settled. Summit League President Tom Douple said UND won’t be considered for admission until the school finds a solution that makes the NCAA happy.

“We know it’s a very controversial issue,” Douple said. “It’s been going on for several years between lawsuits here, there and everything. Our membership just felt we didn’t want to take on a discussion until it’s resolved.” Douple said it’s “disheartening” to hear about further legal action.

“It’s neighbor against neighbor, and those are never real good situations,” Douple said. “I feel for both sides.”

State rival North Dakota State University is in the Summit League, and the University of South Dakota has been admitted to the conference starting fall 2011. The league will complete its scheduling for the 2011-12 school year in June, Douple said.

Meanwhile, the Big Ten’s University of Minnesota won’t play teams with American Indian nicknames unless they’re in its conference.

Brian Faison, UND athletic director, said some colleges are waiting for an outcome on the nickname issue. He declined to name those schools.

“My only comment is the same I’ve made since I came on board: We need to get this issue resolved,” Faison said. “That hasn’t changed. It’s impacting who we can compete with, our budgets, the cost of travel.”

The nickname issue has been debated since the 1990s. Nearly five years ago UND was placed on a list of schools the NCAA deemed to have “hostile or abusive” American Indian nicknames or logos. UND is the only school on that list that hasn’t changed the name or logo or been granted a waiver to keep them.

The Spirit Lake group and other nickname supporters hope a delay will give UND a chance to get approval from both of the state’s namesake tribes. A referendum last April on the Spirit Lake Sioux reservation showed overwhelming support for the nickname and logo, but the Standing Rock Sioux tribal council has opposed the name, and the tribe hasn’t scheduled a referendum on the matter.

Nickname opponents, including the faculty representative to the board, believe there’s no point in delaying the matter further.

“Anybody who thinks we’re going to be successful in athletics or any level at the university in the 21st century with that name around our necks thinks a straight beats a flush,” said UND professor Jon Jackson, a nonvoting board member.

Board member Michael Haugen of Fargo said there’s nothing the board can do to speed up the process.

“It’s going to come to an end one day,” he said.