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Matt Von Pinnon, Published April 24 2011

Von Pinnon: ‘Fighting Sioux’ solution? Keep name, take penalty

Every time it seems this saga over UND’s “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo might conclude, another twist in the script keeps us turning the page – or shutting the book in disgust.

Both sides are firmly dug in. That was made clear this past week when the NCAA said it was not budging on the nickname issue even though North Dakota has written retention of the name and logo into state law.

But there is a solution that doesn’t get talked about much – a decision bound to leave both the NCAA and North Dakota feeling unfulfilled yet dignified. The best compromises do that.

It’s so simple. Here’s how it works:

UND (and North Dakota) keeps the nickname and logo and accepts the NCAA’s penalties for doing so.

That’s it. Done.

Lost in all this posturing is the actual settlement terms between the state and the NCAA signed back in October 2007.

It says if UND doesn’t secure namesake approval from both Sioux tribes by Nov. 30, 2010, or transition away from the name and logo by Aug. 15, 2011, the sanctions will apply. The thrust of those sanctions?

UND can’t host post-season tournaments or wear “Fighting Sioux” attire during such tournaments.

Now, I know those sanctions seem blasphemous to people who support retention of the name and logo, but if it comes down to either accepting that or no longer having the name and logo altogether, or sports teams participating in the NCAA, it’s seems a pretty palatable compromise.

Yes, UND not being able to host post-season tournaments could hurt the athletic department’s bottom line, but when compared to the potential loss of booster revenue from not retaining the name or NCAA affiliation, it would seem simply accepting such sanctions is a prudent financial move, too.

Because here’s the hard truth nickname supporters don’t always realize: The NCAA could boot UND from its league tomorrow over this stubbornness to adhere to its rules. The NCAA is a club. It doesn’t need to accept everyone, and it’s not as if North Dakota has enough political influence in the sports world to force the NCAA to play ball. The NCAA could very easily take its ball and go home, making an example of the state on this issue. Then who would UND play? That’s a very possible reaction every “Fighting Sioux” supporter must be willing to accept if the rhetoric grows and the NCAA tires of it.

Of course, accepting the NCAA sanctions in order to keep the name and logo most of the time doesn’t solve the bigger questions of whether retention of the name and logo is right or good for the state and university. Those debates have been raging for a long time and will continue to rage on, whether the name and logo goes or stays.

What we’re talking about here is simply solving the immediate dispute between what the state law calls for and the NCAA’s position regarding it.

A lot of people – including this newspaper – have criticized the Legislature for further politicizing the name and logo issue by retaining it in state law because they feel such actions can only hurt the university, its image and its ability to attract students or athletic opponents. But it’s pretty clear legislators were exercising the will of the majority by doing what they did. Survey after survey – including independent polls done by this newspaper – show most North Dakotans support retention of the “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo.

Now that majority must agree to work within the parameters of an earlier agreement signed by its authorized agents.

Keep the name and logo if you must. Be prepared to serve the penalty.


Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579.