GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Citing the “consummate respect” with which it uses the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, the University of North Dakota on Tuesday sent an appeal to the NCAA seeking exemption from the organization’s policy restricting the use of American Indian mascots, names and imagery.
“We have articulated a strong case for an appeal that will entirely refute any sense that we somehow use our nickname and logo in an abusive and/or hostile manner,” said UND President Charles Kupchella, adding that he expects a “quick and positive” decision from the NCAA.
On Aug. 5, the NCAA Executive Committee issued a policy that prohibited UND and 17 other schools deemed to have “hostile and abusive” American Indian nicknames, mascots and logos from displaying them during NCAA-sponsored post-season playoffs. In addition, beginning Feb. 1, 2006, none of the schools listed would be allowed to host NCAA playoff events.
In the appeal signed by Kupchella, the legality of the NCAA measure is questioned: “Since the policy includes references to Indians but not to Vikings or Irish, it discriminates on the basis of race, which is not only wrong but also probably illegal.”
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.
“Our logo is a classical image of an 18th and 19th century American Indian, and it was designed by a well-respected American Indian artist, Bennett Brien,” Kupchella said.
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 in the Dakotas and other Native American organizations. However, some national polls show that a majority of Native Americans either support or don’t oppose the use of Indian-related mascots, logos and imagery for sports teams.
On Aug. 23, the NCAA granted an exemption to the Florida State University (Seminoles) which has been criticized for using a tribal name and incorporating a mascot who dresses as an American Indian and performs during FSU athletic events. After Seminole tribes in Florida and Oklahoma expressed strong support for FSU, the NCAA reversed its decision.
“Based on the subcommittee’s action in overturning the decision for Florida State University, I expect that we’ll have a favorable decision,” Kupchella said.
In granting the exemption to FSU, Bernard Franklin, NCAA senior vice-president for governance and membership, said, “The NCAA Executive Committee continues to believe the stereotyping of Native Americans is wrong. However, in its review of the particular circumstances regarding Florida State, the staff review committee noted the unique relationship between the university and the Seminole Tribe of Florida as a significant factor.”
In its appeal, UND says: “We reject the NCAA argument that Indian nicknames and logos stereotype American Indians. The nickname Fighting Sioux and our logo no more stereotypes current-day American Indians than depictions of pioneers would stereotype the current-day white population.”
The university also emphasized its educational programs for Native Americans: “The University of North Dakota’s relationship with the American Indian people is far more substantive and fundamental than the use of a nickname. UND enrolls more than 400 American Indian students and has more than 25 programs — probably proportionately more than any institution of higher education in the United States — designed to support American Indian students.”
One of the first serious tests of the NCAA policy could come March 24-25 of next year when UND hosts the NCAA West Regional hockey playoffs at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks. The $100+ million arena built by late UND benefactor Ralph Engelstad has thousands of Sioux logos and Fighting Sioux references inside and outside, which would have to be covered if the NCAA policy remains in effect.
UND officials were quoted by the Associated Press last weekend saying that the neither the university nor the arena management have any intention of covering up the Fighting Sioux nickname and logos.
UND’s appeal reiterates that position, stating: “We made a bid and the NCAA accepted it. Typically, an existing contract cannot be unilaterally modified.”
UND considers the NCAA’s policy of denying the university playoff games because it disapproves of the schools name and logo “a breach of fundamental fairness,” claiming: “It translates an ‘opinion’ by members of a Committee into a competitive disadvantage for athletes by losing the right they may have earned to compete with a home venue advantage in play-off competition.”
In noting apparent inconsistencies in how the policy is applied and to which schools it is applied, UND’s appeal asks, “Who is empowered to grant or deny the use of words in the public domain? Who controls the use of Irish, Scandinavians (Vikings), Mountaineers, ‘Sooners’ or even ‘Gamecocks’? Should the NCAA really be assuming — or even implicitly assigning — the right?”