No change on Indian sports nicknames

BISMARCK, N.D. -- The NCAA won't budge on a policy that will penalize the University of North Dakota for keeping its Fighting Sioux athletics nickname, association vice president Bob Williams said Friday.

Williams' statement, made in an email to The Associated Press, and a separate statement posted on the NCAA's website on Friday raised doubts about whether it would be useful for state officials to meet with the NCAA to discuss the issue.

"A meeting is not scheduled, nor will the policy be changed," Williams said in the email.

The policy discourages the use of American Indian-themed mascots, logos and nicknames by member colleges. It considers offensive UND's Fighting Sioux nickname and a logo that features the profile of an American Indian warrior.

The university agreed to retire both in mid-August, but the Legislature pre-empted those plans last March by approving a bill that requires North Dakota to keep them.

Nickname supporters flooded lawmakers with emails at the time, and Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed the measure only a few hours after he received it.

The North Dakota House's majority leader, Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, was the measure's chief sponsor. Carlson has advocated a meeting with NCAA officials and state leaders, including Dalrymple and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, to explore whether the association is willing to be flexible.

Carlson said Friday he believed a meeting would still be useful, and a spokesman for Dalrymple said the governor would attend one.

"I suppose (the NCAA) doesn't want anybody to think they ever reverse policies. But they also need to listen to what we have to say," Carlson said. "I do believe they'll sit down with us, and at least listen ... I think it's worth a try."

Carlson said he believed it was important for elected legislators and the governor to make the case for the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo. The governor appoints members of North Dakota's Board of Higher Education.

"It isn't every day that the governor of a state gets on a plane and goes to talk to the NCAA," Carlson said. "I think that's a whole lot different than dealing with a board of regents, or a board of higher ed."

Should North Dakota keep the nickname and logo past Aug. 15, the university's teams will be barred from using the nickname and logo in postseason tournaments, and the school may not host postseason tournaments.

The Big Sky Conference, which North Dakota hopes to join in July 2012 as part of its switch from the NCAA's Division II to Division I, has said it may consider additional sanctions against North Dakota if the nickname and logo are kept.

A statement Friday on the NCAA's website praised the conference's stand and said the association has "made clear to both the conference and the university that the NCAA has no intention of changing its position."

Sen. Bob Stenehjem, R-Bismarck, the North Dakota Senate's majority leader, said the Legislature may consider repealing the law during a planned November special session on legislative redistricting and health care.

"Is it possible? Yes. Anything could come up," Stenehjem said.

Carlson said he believed it was "premature" to speculate about whether the Fighting Sioux law will be reconsidered during the special session. Lawmakers will have their hands full with redistricting, health care legislation and demands from local governments for financial help in paying flood-fighting bills, Carlson said.

"We want to keep (the special session) under control," he said. "We don't want it to be a free-for-all."

Grant Shaft, president of the Board of Higher Education, said he was not surprised to hear the NCAA's latest statements. If lawmakers and the governor want a face-to-face meeting with NCAA officials, "we will certainly support and facilitate that," Shaft said. "But I think the window is extremely narrow at this point."