North Dakota To File Lawsuit Against NCAA

University of North Dakota President Charles Kupchella said a lawsuit against the NCAA regarding the university’s Fighting Sioux nickname and logo could be filed late this week or next week.

Last April, the NCAA Executive Committee turned down UND’s final appeal of a policy that penalizes some member schools for using American Indian nicknames, imagery or mascots. Although UND does not have a mascot, the NCAA ruled that the university’s nickname and logo were “hostile and abusive” to Native Americans.

Following that decision, North Dakota’s State Board of Higher Education gave UND approval to sue the NCAA. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is in charge of the lawsuit, which is being funded through donations from alumni and others. The university has also received additional legal assistance from inside and outside the state, according to UND officials.

Kupchella confirmed that while at a Tuesday night event in Fargo called the UND Showcase, he answered a question from the audience about the lawsuit, saying that it would be filed in a matter of days.

“Exactly when and in what court is still up to the attorney general to decide,” he said.

In response to a USCHO request for additional information, Liz Brocker, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, said: “We have been working diligently to review all the possible legal claims the state, through UND, may have in response to the recent actions of the NCAA. This office has also been reviewing whether state or federal court may be the more appropriate venue to pursue the various claims that are under consideration. Although no final decisions have been made, we expect to be ready to file something in the near future, and will do so at the time and in the court we deem most suitable for the presentation of our legal arguments.”

Asked about the pending lawsuit at Sioux hockey media day Wednesday, coach Dave Hakstol said, “It won’t be a distraction for us. I have very strong feelings in regards to the nickname and the jersey and the logo. I hold it in such high regard and have such great respect for the connection and the meaning that comes with it. Obviously it’s something that I’ll pay very close attention to.”

Hakstol said he didn’t plan to discuss the lawsuit with the team.

“Our guys, they understand,” he said. “The freshman coming in will very quickly learn. The guys who have been here a year or two already understand what it means to be part of the Fighting Sioux hockey program. It’s not something we have to discuss.”

UND’s use of the Fighting Sioux nickname has been controversial for more than 30 years. Sioux tribes in the Dakotas have passed resolutions calling on the university to change the name. Numerous organizations and programs on the UND campus have passed similar resolutions.

Under the NCAA policy, UND is not allowed to host any NCAA-sponsored playoff events and its athletic teams are barred from displaying the Fighting Sioux name and logo in any NCAA events in which they participate. Most of the 18 schools originally identified as having “hostile and abusive” nicknames have agreed to adopt different nicknames.

Citing the approval of local tribes, the association granted policy waivers to the Florida State Seminoles, the Utah Utes, the Central Michigan Chippewa and the Catawba College Indians. UND contends that a resolution passed by the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe in December 2000 grants it permission to use the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

In June, Kupchella released an open letter to the NCAA in which he called the policy illegitimate, unfair, fundamentally irrational, arbitrary and capricious. In reference to the Florida State waiver, he wrote:

“The fundamental irrationality of calling what we do hostile and abusive -– on the basis of no basis at all -– and then saying that a white guy in war paint, carrying a flaming spear while riding a horse into a stadium, leading fans in a tomahawk chop while singing an Indian chant is okay should be obvious to any jury. Any who try to swallow this convoluted logic will choke on it.”