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Wayne Nelson / Forum Communications Co., Published June 12 2011

Iowa decision just latest in UND's scheduling woes, and more could be coming

GRAND FORKS – The University of North Dakota women’s basketball program thought it had completed a scheduling coup – a home-and-home series against the University of Iowa.

The Big Ten’s Hawkeyes, with Crookston’s Kamille Wahlin a key player on the team, was tentatively scheduled to play at UND next season.

But the never-ending saga of the Fighting Sioux nickname controversy led Iowa to scrap the series.

It’s just another part of the collateral damage the UND athletic program has had to deal with since the North Dakota Legislature earlier this year required the school to maintain the Fighting Sioux name.

Iowa, in addition to other universities, likely was under the impression that the nickname was in the process of being retired in accordance with an agreement between UND and the NCAA.

But the Legislature’s action, it appears, is leading to more scheduling hassles for UND – a school still making the difficult transition to full status as a Division I athletic program.

If the nickname stays, South Dakota State reportedly has issues with scheduling UND beyond the contracted 2013 football game between the Sioux and Jackrabbits.

The biggest blow, however, may be the refusal of Minnesota and Wisconsin to schedule UND in men’s hockey after the two schools leave the WCHA for the Big Ten conference. They’ll make that move in two years.

If Minnesota and Wisconsin hockey weekends in Grand Forks were eliminated, the city could also feel a negative economic impact.

Minnesota and UND were talking about playing a future football game in the Twin Cities, but those talks have been suspended until there is a resolution to the controversy.

And then the biggest bombshell was dropped last week. Presidents of the Big Sky Conference told UND President Robert Kelley that continued use of the nickname and logo mandated by a new state law “has the possibility of destroying Division I athletics at the University of North Dakota.”

It could possibly affect UND’s upcoming membership in the 48-year-old league.

Big Sky Conference commissioner Doug Fullerton, who informed UND of the league’s serious concern, said it’s possible the school’s athletic program could suffer sanctions even if it remains in the league.

The league conceivably could forbid UND to host Big Sky Conference postseason games, a double whammy in that the school already is banned from hosting NCAA postseason competition if it keeps the name.

For the rest of the summer, UND’s athletic department will continue to conduct business as usual as best it can under the circumstances, officials said.

The Big Sky presidents will meet again in October. So far, the only item on the agenda is UND’s Fighting Sioux nickname and logo controversy.

“We’ll keep the discussions going and see how this unfolds,” Fullerton said Friday.

UND is still scheduled to join the Big Sky on July 1, 2012.

“We haven’t backed off that date,” Fullerton said. “But people are watching.”

Nelson is the sports editor for the Grand Forks Herald