North Dakota political leaders are asking the NCAA to back off and let the state's flagship university keep its Fighting Sioux name and logo, even at the risk of potential blacklisting and scorn by other universities and its own conference.
Lawmaker involvement is a strategy even some University of North Dakota boosters question, and is unique among schools forced to decide whether to drop American Indian nicknames deemed hostile and abusive or accept penalties for keeping them.
North Dakota's debate appeared to be resolved when the state Board of Higher Education agreed in 2009 to drop the Fighting Sioux logo and nickname and UND agreed to phase them out by this Aug. 15.
But state lawmakers intervened earlier this year, passing a law that requires the university to retain the moniker and logo. If the school keeps them past the Aug. 15 deadline, it will not be allowed to use them in postseason tournaments nor host any such events.
Potentially more damaging, the Big Sky Conference, which UND hopes to join next year, has said the issue will complicate the school's conference membership and some schools may refuse to schedule games with North Dakota. Some believe that would lead to a broad decline in athletics.
Still, North Dakota lawmakers say hundreds of constituent emails substantiate tremendous public support for the current nickname. Some legislators have said they resent the nickname being characterized as hostile and abusive because they believe the name and logo are treated with respect. Others have said the change is being rammed down their throats by the NCAA and think the higher education board should have done more to adhere to residents' wishes.
About 20 schools with American Indian nicknames were targeted by an NCAA policy issued in August 2005. Some teams, like the Florida State Seminoles, were taken off the list when they received approval from namesake tribes. UND got the OK from the Spirit Lake Sioux, but were not able to get permission from the Standing Rock Sioux.