Fighting Sioux meeting with NCAA cancelled

Bismarck, North Dakota (AP) April 2011

A meeting between two top NCAA executives and North Dakota officials to discuss the future of the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname, which the college athletics association considers an insult to American Indians, has been cancelled.

Grant Shaft, vice president of the state Board of Higher Education, said that the NCAA’s president, Mark Emmert, and its executive vice president, Bernard Franklin, confirmed they would not attend the April 22 meeting in Bismarck after UND President Robert Kelley informed them it might be public.

The meeting itself, which was to have included Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Kelley, state legislative leaders and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, has been cancelled, Kelly said.

The NCAA considers the Fighting Sioux nickname and UND’s logo, which features the profile of an American Indian warrior, to be hostile and abusive. The University of North Dakota was included in a group of schools that were informed six years ago they could face NCAA sanctions if they kept American Indian-themed nicknames, logos or mascots.

UND had planned to retire the nickname and logo in August, but the North Dakota Legislature last month approved a bill ordering UND to continue using both. Shaft said the meeting with Emmert and Franklin was intended to explore the NCAA’s response to the legislation.

Franklin, in an email message to Kelley, said the “difference of opinion seems to transcend the nickname/logo issue to the fundamental matters of governmental operation and authority.” The NCAA, Franklin wrote, “has no role in that discussion.”

“The NCAA and the University of North Dakota have agreed to the parameters of the NCAA’s Native American mascot policy, and we remain ready to assist the institution in its implementation,” Franklin wrote.

That policy says UND, should it keep its nickname and logo, will not be allowed to host postseason athletics tournaments. Its teams will not be allowed to wear uniforms bearing the nickname or logo in postseason games, and other NCAA teams will be encouraged not to schedule UND’s teams.

“What we had hoped to address is if there would be any room for either reopening those discussions as to how that policy applies to UND, or a whole gamut of other possibilities,” Shaft said.

UND will still seek “clarification” about the legislation’s effect, if any, on NCAA policy, Shaft said.

“We now have a situation where we have a law that’s been passed, and I believe that’s the only time, with regard to this policy, that this has presented itself to the NCAA,” Shaft said. “I don’t know if it is any more leverage, but at least it is a new dynamic.”

An NCAA spokesman did not respond to a telephone message left for comment or an emailed list of questions.

Dalrymple, Stenehjem, Kelley, Shaft and the North Dakota Legislature’s GOP majority leaders, Bismarck Sen. Bob Stenehjem and Fargo Rep. Al Carlson, had been invited to attend the meeting, along with UND’s athletics director, Brian Faison; William Goetz, the chancellor of the state university system; and Jon Backes, president of the Board of Higher Education.

The meeting was to be closed to the public, which prompted protests from The Associated Press and other media organizations and the Legislature’s Democratic leaders. Dalrymple, who is a Republican, told the AP he believed the meeting should be open.

Franklin’s email declaring that NCAA officials would not attend came days after Kelley, in his own email to Franklin, mentioned the objections and said that “members of the public may be in attendance, as will state and local media.”

Shaft said Emmert and Franklin had committed to come to Bismarck for the meeting. “The only circumstance that changed” was the information in Kelley’s email that the meeting might be open to the public, Shaft said.

Bob Stenehjem and Carlson, who sponsored the UND nickname legislation and has advocated that the meeting be open, said they were not surprised by the cancellation.

“They (the NCAA officials) were afraid it was going to be a media circus, and you know what? It would have been,” Carlson said. “Because people are interested in it.”