With a sigh, Senate repeals nickname lawBISMARCK — With barely an echo of the passion and debate that marked the North Dakota Legislature’s adoption earlier this year of a mandate that University of North Dakota keep its Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, the Senate voted 39-7 Tuesday for a bill that would repeal the mandate.
By: Chuck Haga, The Dickinson Press
BISMARCK — With barely an echo of the passion and debate that marked the North Dakota Legislature’s adoption earlier this year of a mandate that University of North Dakota keep its Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, the Senate voted 39-7 Tuesday for a bill that would repeal the mandate.
The repeal bill, which carries an amendment stipulating that UND is not to adopt a new nickname or associated logo until Jan. 1, 2015, goes now to the House, where it is likely to come up for a floor vote today.
The House and Senate education committees, meeting jointly earlier Tuesday, each had voted unanimously to recommend adoption of the amended repeal bill.
Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, a member of the House Education Committee, sat through the brief Senate debate and vote. He said he expects a similarly comfortable margin when the bill reaches the House floor.
The bill was introduced Monday through the Senate Delayed Bills Committee by Sen. Lonnie Laffen, R-Grand Forks, but Sen. Donald Schaible, R-Mott, carried it on the Senate floor and set a wistful tone for the brief debate to come.
The issue, he said, “has created much emotion for the people of North Dakota and for the students, staff and alumni of UND.”
The education committees, which had heard many hours of impassioned testimony from both sides when the bill requiring UND to keep the name made its surprise appearance during the 2011 regular session, also was the subject of “good testimony, for and against,” on Monday, Schaible said.
‘Time to move on’
The original bill embracing the Fighting Sioux name was passed “with every intention of doing what’s right for North Dakota,” he said, but “now it’s time to do what’s best for the University of North Dakota.” Committee members were persuaded, he said, that continuing to require UND to use the nickname “could possibly destroy the athletic program” at the
Sen. David O’Connell, D-Lansford, said he “never backed down from a bully in my life,” but he also had concluded that “it’s time to move on” and allow UND to retire the name.
“We did our best” in trying to save the name, he said, but evidence growing since the Legislature’s action last spring provided “a reality check,” and North Dakota found it was “playing on the NCAA’s home court, and using their ball.”
Sen. Dick Dever, R-Bismarck, told his colleagues that he had lain awake the night before, thinking about the Fighting Sioux nickname issue.
It’s frustrating, he said, after listening to many Sioux Indians — North Dakotans — say they look at the nickname with pride “and don’t think it’s hostile and
“We need to let this go,” Dever said, “but we need to keep that heritage alive, and I know they will.”
Only one member of the Grand Forks delegation spoke: Sen. Mac Schneider, a Democrat who represents the district that includes UND — where, he again reminded the Senate, he proudly played Fighting Sioux football.
“I fully appreciate the frustration North Dakotans feel towards the NCAA’s policy on this issue and the manner in which it has been applied to UND,” he said. “Is the NCAA being fair? Is it even making sense? Those questions can be answered with a resounding ‘no.’ But that is not the debate today.
“The issue before us is, again, a narrow one. Given the reality we face, what is in the best interest of the University of North Dakota, and in particular, its student athletes?”
In the end, North Dakota found it could not control the NCAA, Schneider said.
“We sued,” he said. “We enacted a law. Our state’s leaders practically begged. And yet, UND student athletes continue to face the prospect of NCAA sanctions and harmful actions by member schools.”
People should not downplay the seriousness of threatened sanctions, Schneider said.
“The commissioner of the Big Sky Conference, which UND is scheduled to join next year, has made painfully clear — in writing — that a failure to resolve this issue leaves ‘the Big Sky Conference and any other NCAA Division I conference with very little reason to continue to offer membership to UND.’
“Without a viable conference, our teams will be unable to put together a viable schedule. Without the ability to play against top competition, UND will fail to recruit top talent in terms of coaches and athletes alike. Life as an upper-Midwest independent under NCAA sanctions is absolutely not a realistic option for UND.
“Very simply, we can have successful Division I athletic programs at UND, or we can have the nickname law on the books. We cannot have both.”
The Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe, which last week filed suit against the NCAA, has every right to do so, Schneider said, but the earliest that case could be heard would mean years more of dispute and uncertainty.
Haga is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.