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Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., Published November 06 2011

Grand Forks senator to introduce bill seeking repeal of nickname law today

BISMARCK – Sen. Lonnie Laffen, R-Grand Forks, who earlier this year voted with the majority to give the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname the authority of law, will introduce the much-anticipated bill to repeal that law today at the start of a special session.

It will be a straightforward repeal of the law shepherded through the regular session by House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, Laffen said Sunday.

A joint hearing before the House and Senate education committees is tentatively scheduled for 2:30 p.m. today.

It’s a hard duty, he said, but he believes it’s vital that UND be allowed to retire the much-loved nickname and move on with its jump to Division I athletics.

“I am a fan of the university, the name and the logo,” Laffen said. He voted for the bill that required UND to continue using the nickname, and “I still believe it was the right thing to do.” ESPN has called the logo “the nation’s best and most recognized athletic brand.”

The Legislature last spring, “backed by the will of the citizens of our state, felt the name and logo were worth fighting for,” he said. “We did not want to just give up without trying. There was hope that with our legislative support the NCAA might reconsider, but it was not to be.”

Laffen said he has spoken with all members of a North Dakota delegation that traveled to Indianapolis in August to try to negotiate with the NCAA, and “they have all come to the same conclusion: The NCAA is not going to change. They have stated, re-stated and fought the state in court. They have a policy in place that affects many other schools, and they are not going to bend for North Dakota.”

Laffen said he isn’t interested now in debating whether use of the name and logo is appropriate.

“At this point, success in Division 1 sports requires one key thing: affiliation with the Big Sky Conference,” he said. “The Big Sky Conference says that ‘keeping the name has the possibility of destroying athletics at UND,’ a pretty strong statement,” Laffen said. “Is the Big Sky bluffing? Possibly, but it’s not a bluff that we dare call.”

Chuck Haga writes for the Grand Forks Herald