North Dakota is in an impossible situation.
For more than 80 years, the University of North Dakota has been referred to as the "Sioux," which evolved into the "Fighting Sioux." The state was so passionate about the nickname that earlier this year the legislature adopted a bill requiring the school to maintain the Fighting Sioux nickname despite and NCAA mandate that it be changed.
Now the NCAA and the Big Sky Conference are cracking down and threatening to derail North Dakota's move from the football-defunct Great West Conference to the Big Sky if the school doesn't change it's mascot and imagery.
"I think the issue now is to get our legislative and executive leaders to talk with the NCAA and see if there's any final opportunity to turn the NCAA in another direction," UND President Robert Kelley told the Grand Forks Herald.
"They're trying to be as helpful as they can and they understand the difficulty."
Somehow, North Dakota has to reconcile breaking the law to maintain athletic programs at the state university.
Not an enviable position.
The NCAA issued a statement Friday that it "no intention of changing its position" and would sanction the school if there was not a new logo and mascot in place by Aug. 15.
Back in 2005, the NCAA sanctioned schools for tribal logos and nicknames with "hostile and abusive" symbols. North Dakota went through a legal battle with the NCAA and in late 2007, the NCAA settled with North Dakota stating that if the university could get the Spirit Lake Tribe and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to approve the name and imagery within three years, the school could keep its mascot.
"This really isn't a change in what we've perceived the NCAA position to be all along," Grant Shaft, the president of the State Board of Higher Education told the paper. "Shortly after the legislation (ordering UND to keep the name and logo) was passed, their comment was they didn't think the legislation changed their policy. They now make a more formal statement.
"I still think a meeting will take place between the NCAA officials and the North Dakota contingent because the North Dakota legislative leadership believes very strongly that a face-to-face meeting with the NCAA could change their position.
"However, this statement indicates that possibility is pretty narrow."
North Dakota officials claimed they were not surprised by the NCAA reiterating its position, but realize now that the clock is ticking. The school might also encounter some hostile boosters and donors who have worked to save the name, including former hockey player Ralph Engelstad, who donated $100 million dollars for the construction of the Ralph Engelstad Arena. One of the conditions of Engelstad's donation was that the Fighting Sioux name be kept indefinitely. The Betty Engelstad Sioux Center houses the basketball and volleyball teams.
There's no word yet on prospective names for North Dakota's teams. Before the mascot became the Fighting Sioux, the nickname was "The Flickertails."
What is that? Well, I had to look it up, but apparently it's a ground squirrel or what normal people call a gopher.
The North Dakota Flickertails would certainly be unique and would definitely bring back fond memories for those who were around the program 100 years ago.
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