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Kevin Schnepf, Published October 06 2011

Schnepf: Big Sky has reasons to be concerned about UND

FARGO - On the day the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team opens yet another season, the Sioux nickname hullabaloo has reared its ugly head once again.

This is not particularly good news for UND’s bid to join the Big Sky Conference – whose commissioner has more or less warned: The longer this issue drags out, the chances increase of being rejected as a member.

It was reported Thursday that nickname supporters from the Spirit Lake Sioux Reservation sent yet another letter to Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton, adamant in demanding the continued use of the nickname.

This is certainly not what Fullerton wanted to hear.

“The discussion they’re carrying on is not my issue, and that’s not the issue our presidents are concerned about,” said Fullerton, who has repeatedly cautioned that UND could become a weaker Division I program if the dispute continues.

The ongoing issue could threaten UND’s ability to schedule competition. Big Sky leaders have also expressed concern that recruiting could be affected if the matter isn’t resolved.

In Fullerton’s defense, what league wants to accept a member with such baggage?

“If they become marginalized, they become of less use to the Big Sky Conference,” Fullerton has stated.

This most recent development is certainly not what UND athletic director Brian Faison wanted to be worried about today. It casts a shadow over tonight’s hockey opener that will draw more than 10,000 fans into the Ralph – the Taj Mahal of hockey arenas, which is plastered with Sioux logos in every nook and cranny.

According to the 2007 settlement with the NCAA, which requires the discontinued use of the Sioux nickname, some of those logos – like the ones ingrained in the granite floors – can be retained. Logos in arena carpeting and aisle seating can remain until the end of 2012.

Suffice it to say, the Sioux nickname will remain alive and well in the Ralph.

But will the debate of whether to keep the nickname or not continue?

At one point, it seemed like it was over when the State Board of Higher Education voted to discontinue its use. As hard as it was to say goodbye to the Sioux logo, UND athletics was feeling good, especially when it got the invitation to join the Big Sky.

Then, out of nowhere, Fargo Republican Al Carlson spearheaded a state legislature vote to make it a law that UND keep the nickname. That certainly set off alarms amongst the Big Sky presidents, who are scheduled to meet in two weeks to hear another report from UND.

Don’t expect the Big Sky brass to pull the plug on UND then. They will wait to see if the state legislature rescinds the Sioux nickname law during a special session in November.

Even if the law is repealed as expected, don’t count on the Big Sky accepting UND with open arms. This is a league, unlike others, that does not urgently need new members. This is a league that for years has balked at the idea of increased travel to the Dakotas.

And now this is a league, if it continues to keep hearing about the Sioux nickname issue, that may use any excuse to send UND home packing without any conference home.

As much as you can thank Mr. Engelstad for engraving all those beloved Sioux logos into marble, you can thank Mr. Carlson if the Big Sky’s denial becomes etched in stone.


Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

and at kschnepf@forumcomm.com