N. Dakota ready to drop Fighting Sioux

INDIANAPOLIS -- The University of North Dakota took its fight over the school's nickname straight to NCAA President Mark Emmert on Friday.

And still lost.

After meeting for more than an hour, Emmert told a group of state legislators and school officials he would not compromise on a court-imposed settlement to change the school nickname from Fighting Sioux by Monday's deadline. The school now faces a ban from hosting NCAA tournaments and will not be allowed to use the nickname or logo at NCAA tourney games until it makes the change.

State legislators will now do what they can to help the school comply.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said he will introduce legislation Nov. 7 that will give school officials the authority to change the nickname, essentially repealing an April law. Dalrymple said he expects that bill to pass and the school to change the name.

Keeping the name, Dalrymple said, would prove too costly.

In addition to NCAA-imposed sanctions, other schools already have threatened to keep North Dakota off their schedules and the Big Sky Conference, which the school hopes to join next fall, has told North Dakota that its conference affiliation could be jeopardized without a resolution.

"Based on that, the consequences of not changing the Sioux logo are too great," Dalrymple said.

Before the name can change, it must also be approved by the board of directors of the alumni association, which Dalrymple said already has signed petitions to do so.

North Dakota sent in its heavy hitters to make the case.

Those attending included school president Robert Kelley, state Board of Higher Education President Grant Shaft, Republican House Majority Leader Al Carlson, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Dalrymple.

While Emmert and executive vice president Bernard Franklin listened to the arguments, they refused to bend in their quest to end a fight that has lasted half a decade and has weaved its way through the courts and the state legislature.

The fight began in 2006 when the NCAA placed North Dakota on a list of 19 schools with American Indian nicknames, logos and mascots it deemed to be "hostile and abusive." The university then filed suit against the NCAA, and in October 2007, a court-imposed settlement required school officials to retire the nickname on Aug. 15, 2011, unless the state's two namesake tribes approved its use.

The Spirit Lake Sioux tribe has endorsed using the nickname and logo, but The Standing Rock Sioux's tribal council refused to change its long-standing opposition.

The NCAA also refused to give in.

"I'm disappointed," said Carlson, who authored the legislation requiring the school to continue using its long-established moniker. "I would have hoped they would have opened up the settlement agreement for some review. I think they're hurting the very people (American Indians) that they're protecting. But we've got to live with what has happened."

Carlson declined to say whether he would vote for Dalrymple's legislation.

The meeting came one day after yet another legal twist. Eight American Indian students at North Dakota took the issue back to court. The students filed a federal lawsuit seeking an end to the use of the school's current nickname. They contend the law violates the state constitution and reverses the court settlement.

Emmert made it a moot point.

"Our settlement remains in effect and North Dakota will be subject to our policy on Aug. 15, Monday," spokesman Bob Williams said. "It's our understanding that the Fighting Sioux name and logo will be dropped, but until it is, the university is subject to the policy."

It's been a passionate issue in the Peace Garden State.

Two North Dakota alums, who now live in Indianapolis, waited outside the NCAA headquarters in Fighting Sioux hockey jerseys. When the North Dakota contingent arrived, they shook hands and spoke briefly with Kelley and Dalrymple.

"I think the NCAA is way too harsh," said Lucy Klym, who earned a master's degree from North Dakota in 2007. "They (the NCAA) will overcome the state, they'll overcome the school, they'll overcome anything. They're their own entity, as you can tell."

Originally, the meeting was scheduled for July 18, but was postponed after the state Senate's Republican majority leader, Bob Stenehjem, was killed in a traffic accident in Alaska.

The NCAA looked into the use of 33 school mascots before announcing its ban on American Indiana nicknames in August 2005. Fourteen of those schools changed their nicknames before the ban went into effect in February 2006. The remaining schools wound up on the same list as North Dakota, the only school still fighting the NCAA.

Alcorn State did not change its name and has abided by the postseason ban.

It's not the first time the NCAA has used its power to jump into a debate that typically plays out in the political arena.

In 2001, the NCAA announced a two-year moratorium on awarding predetermined postseason events to South Carolina and Mississippi because those states were flying the Confederate flag at the state capitol. The governing body later extended the ban indefinitely.

But the North Dakota legislators were hoping for more.

"We appealed for the better part of an hour and asked the question a number of different ways," Dalrymple said. "But there's no question the settlement will stand and there will be no further negotiations."

The school also will have to make significant, and perhaps costly, modifications to the hockey arena, which has the Fighting Sioux logo throughout the facility.

Dalrymple said the NCAA and the attorney general would negotiate some of those terms.