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Chuck Haga, Forum Communications, Published September 26 2012

NCAA says most Sioux logos can stay in Ralph Engelstad Arena

GRAND FORKS - In what’s likely a final round of negotiations over the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname, the NCAA has backed off its demand for wholesale stripping of the historic name and logo from the Ralph Engelstad Arena.

The NCAA “agreed to let just about everything stay at the arena,” Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said.

Stenehjem, who negotiated the new addendum to the 2007 settlement agreement that ended North Dakota’s lawsuit against the NCAA, outlined the changes this morning during an executive session of the State Board of Higher Education in Bismarck.

Stenehjem had sued the NCAA on behalf of UND, the state and the higher education board after the athletics association adopted a policy seeking to eliminate the use of American Indian names, mascots and imagery in college sports.

In the settlement, the NCAA agreed to allow the state two years to win namesake approval for use of the nickname from the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribes. Spirit Lake gave its consent through a referendum and Tribal Council resolution, but Standing Rock’s council adopted a resolution affirming its longstanding opposition to the nickname.

The settlement agreement also had specified changes that would have to be made to the $100 million REA for it to be an acceptable host site for NCAA championship events, requiring UND to replace flooring, carpets, seating and other items displaying the “Fighting Sioux” logo and Native American imagery before the end of this year to be deemed in compliance with the NCAA policy.

New deal

The new addendum requires the removal of the signs on the outside of the facility that say “Home of the Fighting Sioux” as soon as possible, Stenehjem said, and replacement of the logo carpeting as it wears out.

The “Home of the Fighting Sioux” signs are not accurate, Stenehjem said, “because it isn’t the home of the Fighting Sioux anymore since the State Board retired the name.”

He said it will be “up to the managers of the arena how quickly they can do it, and they will have to decide what they replace it with, ‘Home of UND Hockey’ or ‘Home of Champions’ or whatever.”

The other items covered by the addendum “include some of the more controversial things, including the logos at the end of seat rows, the brass etched standards along railings and the carpet on the suite level, which can stay (until) it wears out.”

“Every one of those items was a source of great contention,” Stenehjem said. “I’m pleased we were able to put this behind us, which was the hope of everyone.”

The board endorsed the addendum by a unanimous vote, he said, and he outlined the addendum to state legislative leaders and others who had been involved in talks with the NCAA, “and they are all very pleased.”

Once the outside signs are removed, the arena will be in compliance with NCAA policies and UND would be entitled to host championship events in the two facilities, he said.

The NCAA also will remove UND from the list of offending schools deemed to be using hostile or abusive names and imagery.

Stenehjem said the revised agreement with the NCAA also allows the REA “to move forward with plans to create a commemorative wall within the facility depicting the history of the Sioux Nation and its contributions to the state.”

Jody Hodgson, the REA general manager, was not immediately available for comment. Stenehjem said he spoke with Hodgson about the addendum Tuesday and that Hodgson planned to take it to his board today.

Sole concession

The NCAA’s willingness to reconsider the presence of the name and logo at REA was the one concession the association made in August 2011, when Stenehjem and Gov. Jack Dalrymple led a delegation of state officials to NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis.

The delegation, which included state House and Senate leaders and the presidents of UND and the State Board of Higher Education, hoped to persuade the NCAA to back off its requirement that UND drop the nickname to avoid sanctions.

The state leaders were armed with a new law, adopted with big majorities by the Legislature, requiring UND to keep the nickname. When the NCAA refused to budge, state leaders conceded defeat, and the law was repealed in November. A petition drive by nickname supporters put the issue on the June ballot, but state voters decisively rejected it.

The concession the NCAA made last August to review the REA portion of the 2007 settlement led to NCAA Vice President Bernard Franklin visiting Grand Forks last month and touring the facility with Stenehjem, UND President Robert Kelley, REA General Manager Jody Hodgson and Earl Strinden, who as leader of the UND Alumni Association had helped to arrange the late Ralph Engelstad’s gift of the palatial arena.

The officials toured the arena on Aug. 20, Stenehjem said.

“I reminded him (Franklin) that I also had invited him up to see a hockey game,” Stenehjem said. “I told him he still owes me that.”

Stenehjem said he was “pleased that the NCAA was willing to show flexibility in its policy.” He said Franklin and other NCAA officials were “impressed with the efforts of the university, the Board of Higher Education and the state to move ahead on the issue.”

He said the June vote “also helped persuade the NCAA that the change in the agreement was in everyone’s best interest.”