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Kevin Schnepf, Published April 03 2012

Schnepf: UND vote could be harmful

Fargo - The University of North Dakota football team is scheduled to make its Big Sky Conference debut Sept. 22 at Sacramento State. Better book your plane tickets now because it could be one of only eight Big Sky games it ever plays – especially if North Dakotans vote to keep the Sioux nickname.

That’s right. The never-ending Sioux nickname saga is now in the hands of North Dakota voters.

Tuesday, the North Dakota Supreme Court announced it will not address the issue. UND and the State Board of Higher Education were hoping Supreme Court justices would rule the state law mandating the use of Sioux nickname as unconstitutional.

Instead, North Dakota voters will decide June 12 if the nickname stays or not.

Let the campaign begin.

Sioux nickname supporters will tout that the NCAA has no right penalizing UND for using the Sioux nickname – a sentiment that seems to be shared by the majority of North Dakotans.

UND officials, no doubt, will try to change those opinions – arguing that the use of the Sioux nickname will jeopardize their imminent Big Sky membership and subsequently, their future in Division I athletics.

Whether you could care less about college athletics or not, whether you support the nickname or not, whether you think the NCAA is made up of pompous mucky-yucks who have far more important issues to deal with, the fear that UND athletics could end up without a home is a legitimate one.

The longer this nickname issues has lingered, the more concerned Big Sky presidents have become. They don’t like the idea of having a league member whose nickname has already prompted schools to discontinue playing them, whose nickname has already kept Sioux teams from hosting NCAA playoff games, whose nickname could provoke protests, whose nickname could limit recruiting efforts.

Those presidents were never fond of accepting a member that is 600 miles to the east of most of the current members. So if North Dakotans vote to keep the nickname, don’t be surprised if Big Sky presidents vote to boot UND out of their league.

“Even a full-fledged member can be removed from the league at any time by a vote of the presidents,” Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton warned months ago. “… What I’m concerned about is that the University of North Dakota is going to become a marginalized Division I program. … If they become marginalized, they become of less use to the Big Sky Conference. … The longer this stays an issue, the worse it will be.”

There are many in Grand Forks County who are beginning to realize that keeping the Sioux nickname could mean a slow death for UND athletics. We’ll find out June 12 if the rest of the state shares those sentiments.

As spiteful as it sounds, there are quite a few North Dakota State University supporters who may vote to keep the Sioux nickname – just to make their century-long rival suffer for scoffing at NDSU’s decision to make the move to Division I. Remember? Long before UND decided to follow in NDSU’s footsteps to Division I, it chose not to schedule the Bison.

Let’s hope that doesn’t influence the June 12 vote. Let’s hope the emotional attachments to the Sioux nickname can be released once and for all.

If not, UND could find itself in a position where it could be next to impossible to schedule anybody.

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

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