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Lloyd Omdahl, Published May 27 2012

NCAA sets its own rules

In the recent Forum Communications poll, 56 percent of those intending to vote on June 12 indicated they would vote “yes” on Measure 4 to retire the Fighting Sioux logo, while 44 percent said they intended to vote “no” to keep the logo.

With this margin, logo opponents may think that the measure is safe, but polling on ballot measures is not as certain as polling for partisan candidates. Partisan candidates have the benefit of a base of durable party support, while voting on measures is more fluid.

Another reason to be cautious is the screening of potential voters for June 12. To narrow a poll down to actual participants, pollsters have to ask folks if they are likely to vote. Because folks know that good citizens should vote, they sometimes meet this social expectation by exaggerating their voting intentions.

Because even the best of polling is not a pure science, logo opponents should not be lulled into a sense of security with their 12-point lead.

Almost half – 44 percent – of those who said they were in favor of keeping the logo were voting that way because the NCAA should not dictate such matters to the state or the university.

This idea of dictation stirs the North Dakota cultural impulses of independence and rugged individualism that were born on the frontier more than a hundred years ago. In the North Dakota culture, we’re pretty sensitive about being bossed around.

If we were being pushed around on our own turf, this attitude would have some basis. However, the logic has one basic flaw: For all practical purposes, the playoffs belong to the NCAA and not to the state or the university. If our teams are going to be in their playoffs, we have to abide by their rules.

Let’s take this argument to a backyard swimming pool. Our kids can play in our own swimming pool as much as we want, but when it comes time for treats in the neighbor’s house, the neighbors have a right to require clean shoes.

When the Fighting Sioux play in a tournament that belongs to the NCAA, the NCAA has the authority to set the rules. We are not being pushed around. Actually, we are arguing with the neighbors about whether we have clean shoes. In the final analysis, it’s their house.

Now, we could bow our necks and defy the NCAA if we wanted to accept the consequences, many of which are undetermined at this time. These undetermined consequences are ominous and have University of North Dakota officials pleading with voters to vote “yes” to retire the logo.

University leaders are convinced that keeping the logo would send their Division I sports ambitions into a tailspin. Destruction of the university’s athletic program would be a high price to pay for the temporary pleasure of showing the NCAA who’s boss. We would end up being boss of an empty arena.

There is little doubt that the only victim of a “no” vote would be the University of North Dakota, while the NCAA would go unscathed.

Maybe we don’t think they should be making the rules, but it’s their house.


Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@q.com.