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Jeff Kolpack, Published January 26 2011

Source: UND pushed early resolution on nickname

The University of North Dakota asked an athletic conference it once considered joining to publicly come out against accepting the Fighting Sioux as a member until the controversial nickname and logo issue was resolved, according to Summit League Commissioner Tom Douple.

UND spokesman Peter Johnson said Monday and repeated Tuesday that university President Robert Kelley “categorically denies” UND officials ever made such a request to the Summit League.

“False. Not true at all,” Johnson said. “Neither the president or the athletic director or anybody else from UND ever talked to (the Summit League) from that angle. In no way, shape or form did we ask (Douple) to make that an issue.”

If Douple’s statement is true, it would be a 180-degree reversal of what has commonly been reported for more than two years: that Summit League officials insisted the nickname issue be resolved sooner than the NCAA-imposed deadline of Nov. 30, 2010, so UND could be considered for inclusion in their conference.

In trying to meet the hurried deadline for the Summit League, the state board of higher education last April moved up the deadline to retire the nickname, not exhausting the timeline earlier given to them.

Commissioner Douple did not want to go into further detail on the issue, but when asked why he agreed to UND’s request – that the Summit League would publicly forward this idea – he said, “In support of the (UND) president. He thought it would help them and the board move quicker.”

The Summit’s message did help the state board of higher education act more quickly.

UND and the Summit League first started having serious membership conversations in 2009 when the Summit said it would make a site visit to the University of South Dakota, but not UND. At the time, Douple was quoted as saying the Summit would not visit UND “until the logo issue is resolved one way or another.”

In response, UND athletic director Brian Faison told The Forum a day later, “This is one of the reasons we need to get it resolved. And a resolution doesn’t mean it disappears. It could mean the tribes come to an agreement, but we need to get to that point sooner than later.”

The Summit League’s stance lingered over the issue until last January’s state board of higher education meeting.

Kelley and Faison then urged the board to act as quickly as possible on the nickname, citing frequent questions they received on recruiting and postseason competition, according to the meeting minutes. The minutes also state that Faison told the board that if the nickname is resolved before the Summit’s Presidents Council met last spring, then the league can act on UND’s application and begin scheduling for 2011-12.

At the time, Faison told the board that the Big Sky Conference appeared to have no interest in UND. That, however, changed quickly last fall, and UND ultimately chose to join that conference instead of the Summit League.

Contacted Monday, Richie Smith, state board of higher education president when the Summit was considering UND, said he would be surprised if UND pushed Douple’s stance on the nickname.

“That’s news to me,” he said.

Smith said he was one of a few board members who flew to Summit headquarters in Chicago and talked with Douple.

“He didn’t care if the Sioux name stayed or left,” Smith said of Douple. “He made it pretty clear that until the NCAA said the matter was resolved, that UND would not be admitted.”

The Summit Presidents Council has the authority to admit or deny any prospective member.

UND fits the geographical footprint of the Summit, and its chief rival is 75 miles away in North Dakota State University.

The logo issue remains ongoing in the eyes of the North Dakota Legislature, which will hold a hearing on three bills in support of the nickname today. UND is not part of those discussions, saying it is honoring the state board’s directive last spring to begin retiring the nickname.

Douple said Tuesday that while UND officials deny they pushed the Summit League to offer an ultimatum on the nickname, he would have had no other good reason to do it.

“I wouldn’t put myself out there and put my membership through that on my own volition,” he said. “But it’s water under the bridge. That’s OK. They’ve decided to move on, and we’re moving on.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546