GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The University of North Dakota plans to appeal the NCAA’s new guidelines designed to discourage UND and 17 other universities from using American Indian-related nicknames, mascots and logos.
UND president Charles Kupchella said Friday that before the university files its appeal, it’s seeking clarification from the NCAA about what the guidelines mean and definitions for some of terms used in them. During a news conference, he distributed an open letter to the NCAA outlining UND’s questions and concerns about the policy.
“First, in order to do (the appeal) in a way that would make sense, we have to make more sense out of what the NCAA itself was attempting to do here,” he said.
UND, the only Division I hockey school affected by the NCAA policy, uses the Fighting Sioux nickname for its athletics teams and a logo depicting a Sioux warrior. It does not have a mascot. Controversy has surround UND’s use of the Sioux name for the past three decades because of opposition from American Indian organizations on campus, some UND faculty, tribal governments and other Native American organizations.
“I’ve found after six years here that this is a debate that has opponents on one side and proponents on the other,” Kupchella said. “Both groups made up their minds a long time ago, and no amount of talking seems to change very many people, if any, from one side of the issue to the other.”
On Aug. 5, the NCAA Executive Committee issued guidelines for the use of Native American mascots, nicknames and imagery. Those which the NCAA declared “hostile and abusive” are prohibited from being displayed during NCAA championship events. Universities that continue to use the nicknames, mascots and logos are prohibited from hosting NCAA championships.
After studying the issue for four years, the NCAA stopped short of an outright ban on Native American-related names, mascots and logos and instead opted for a more limited approach. In doing so, the NCAA also encouraged members to follow the example of the University of Wisconsin and the University of Iowa, institutions that have polices against scheduling games with schools that use American Indian nicknames.
“We obviously find that these hostile or abusive mascots or nicknames are troubling to us as presidents of educational institutions,” said Walter Harrison, chair of the NCAA executive committee and president of the University of Hartford. “We also realize that we cannot and should not control what individual institutions do. So we attempted to take these measures which affect NCAA championships which are appropriately within our authority.”
But Kupchella questions whether the NCAA has the authority to do what it did.
“This letter is really to take up the matter of appropriateness and even the legality of the NCAA in its action,” he said.
One of the first serious tests of the NCAA policy could come March 24-25 of next year when UND hosts the NCAA West Regionals at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks. The $100+ million arena built by late UND benefactor Ralph Engelstad has thousands of Sioux logos inside and outside. The measure requiring the logos to be covered up goes into effect Feb. 1, 2006.
Kupchella doesn’t believe that the NCAA can unilaterally alter the tournament contract after both parties agreed to it and force the university to bear the expense.
Asked whether it’s practical to cover the logos, Kupchella replied, “I can’t even comprehend – even fathom – asking the Engelstad Arena to do that. Not because of any physical impossibility or difficulty, but because of the very idea. It would imply all kinds of things that we’re not willing to have implied.”