North Dakota angers fans with Fighting Sioux replacements

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North Dakota angers fans with Fighting Sioux replacements
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The University of North Dakota Sundogs.

Yes, we know what you’re asking: What the hell is a Sundog? Does the University of North Dakota have a campus in Tucson of which we were previously unaware? 

Well, a “sundog” refers to the atmospheric phenomenon in which two colorful halos appear on either side of the sun, as its rays hit ice crystals. “We certainly think this is something that is unique to our region,” said Karl Goehring, chairman of the UND nickname committee tasked with finally replacing Fighting Sioux.

Something else unique to the region: THE UNIVERSITY OF FLIPPIN’ NORTH DAKOTA.

And that’s the problem with the committee’s decision on Tuesday to put forward five nickname possibilities for a public vote: The public overwhelmingly supports the idea that the university’s athletic teams – including its iconic hockey programs – continue to be known as UND/North Dakota without a mascot, which they have been since Fighting Sioux was retired in Dec. 2012.

From the Grand Forks Herald:

The 11-person nickname committee consisting of alumni, students and UND faculty voted to submit Fighting Hawks, Nodaks, North Stars, Roughriders and Sundogs. UND Vice President of University and Public Affairs Susan Walton said she anticipates the names will move forward for a public vote, the process of which has not been developed yet.

The decision to eliminate playing as UND/North Dakota didn't please everyone on the committee, as Chairman Karl Goehring wanted to let the public decide whether to essentially move forward with no new nickname.

"I have several friends who are athletes, and not a single one plays hockey," committee member and UND student Jazmyn Friesz said. "They just want to stay UND, not to bring back Fighting Sioux."

No kidding: The newspaper’s online poll has close to 5,000 responses, and 37.3 percent have cast their lot for “none of the above.” (Wither the poor Sundog, with just 6.73 percent of the vote.)

The committee voted 7-4 to eliminate the UND/North Dakota option, with UND Professor John Bridewell ranking it last because the university president “could just disband the committee or just say we could start over or he could just veto it,” which is just the kind of unfounded hypothesis college professors are usually tasked with disproving. Welp…

Said UND president Robert Kelly (via @NHLHistoryGirl): 

“We appreciate the extraordinary effort this committee has put into this process.  The committee members developed a thorough public suggestion process that yielded a wide variety of potential nicknames, and in a short period of time narrowed this list to the final five names.  They have fulfilled their charter, and I’m confident that we have a sound basis of broad public input and careful deliberation as we take these potential nicknames into the next phase of this process and take the final steps towards identifying a nickname for the University of North Dakota.”

As expected, this did no over well with UND alumni, like former NHL defenseman Mike Commodore (conversing with Mario Lamoureaux):

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And Zane McIntyre, former North Dakota goalie who was in camp with the Boston Bruins this month:

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The disconnect between the committee’s action and the will of the community is just bewildering. Maybe I’ve underestimated the amount of revenue North Dakota would generate from plush Sundog and Fighting Hawks dolls sold at the student bookstore. Maybe the difference between winning and losing at UND is having a freshman in a Hawk suit leading "the wave' during the third period. 

My own theory is that keeping “UND/North Dakota” as the name/nickname is a tacit endorsement of Fighting Sioux as a name that will never be replaced.

Having been to the campus and spoken to dozens of students and alumni about this issue through the years, that’s pretty much the case: You’ll see Fighting Sioux gear around town in perpetuity, even if they’re the Roughriders by next year.

This isn’t about the virtues of that nickname. That debate’s immaterial, because the NCAA’s threat of sanctions deemed it so. This is about a university committee failing to hear its constituency, and capitulating.

“Why not let the people have a say?" Goehring asked.

Good question. Because apparently they don’t have one in rebranding their university’s athletic program. Which is how you get "Sundogs."

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