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Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald, Published June 30 2011

'It's over,' Former Governor Ed Schafer says of UND nickname fight

Former Gov. Ed Schafer said today that North Dakotans should have expressed themselves on the Fighting Sioux nickname through a statewide vote, which might have carried more weight with the NCAA than the legislation putting the name into state law.

But he also added his voice to those suggesting it’s time to retire UND’s Fighting Sioux nickname.

The struggle to retain the nickname “just wears on you,” Schafer said.

“I hate to be the kind of person who bails out because you’re tired of the fight,” he said. “But I think at this time the fight to keep the name has gone over the fulcrum to a point of no gain.”

He said he doesn’t expect much success for the North Dakota delegation heading to Indianapolis for a face-to-face conference with NCAA leaders on July 25. The contingent, led by Gov. Jack Dalrymple, aims to persuade the NCAA to amend its position that UND is in noncompliance with NCAA policy regarding the use of American Indian names and imagery and is subject to sanctions.

“What can you bring to the table that changes the situation?” Schafer asked. “What can you bring that fits within the boundaries of the legal settlement? Does our new state law override the legal settlement? I’m not a lawyer, but I just don’t know what persuasive arguments the governor can put on the table and say, ‘This is why you should change your mind.’ ”

Schafer, who said he has “been dealing with this issue since the 1990s, and actually before, when I was in school in Grand Forks,” also addressed the subject Wednesday as a guest on the Scott Hennen Show on KNOX Radio.

A past president of the UND Alumni Association and UND Foundation, Schafer did not add his name to a letter signed by 15 other past leaders of the association or foundation who declared it was time for UND to retire the nickname and move on. But he said he, too, was weary of the long-running struggle to keep it.

“I’ve just come to the conclusion that it’s over,” Schafer said Wednesday. “As much as I would like to keep the name, it’s not going to happen. We’ve spent too much time, resources and effort to fight it. Let’s get it over with, make the transition and move on. I don’t particularly like that, but that’s where it’s at.”

In an interview today, he told the Herald he has always thought it “extremely hypocritical of the NCAA to say our use of ‘Fighting Sioux’ is abusive and hostile, but it’s OK for Florida (State) to be the Seminoles if you pay $2 million to the tribe.

“You can buy your way out of it, apparently, and I don’t think that’s right. Either you believe in the policy or you don’t.”

He also said Bernard Franklin, the NCAA vice president who has taken the lead on pressing the policy against use of Indian names and imagery, was “rude and unresponsive” when Schafer tried to talk with him. Franklin is expected to be among NCAA leaders receiving the North Dakota delegation in Indianapolis.

“I made inquiries to get some information and was totally stiff-armed,” Schafer said.

He said the NCAA position is “pure political correctness, not at all grounded in true philosophy. It’s stupid. But stupid or not, I just think we’re flogging a dead horse, as someone said.

“The NCAA isn’t going to change its position now. Obviously, they don’t want to. So I think it’s time we get a new nickname and logo and still support the University of North Dakota the best we can.”

The state, which sued the NCAA over the nickname policy but settled in 2007 by signing an agreement that gave UND three years to win the support of the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux tribes, may have missed its best chance to get the athletics association to back off, the former governor and U.S. secretary of agriculture said.

“I believe I would have called a special statewide election on the nickname, which would have included the North Dakota residents living on the reservations,” he said, adding that he “mentioned the idea to a couple of state officials” but not to either of his successors as governor.

“I believe the result at Standing Rock would have been positive, just as it was at Spirit Lake,” where voters in a 2009 referendum OK’d continued use of the Sioux nickname by a two-to-one margin.

“Then the NCAA would have had to say OK,” Schafer said.