GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The University of North Dakota must retire the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo starting Oct. 1 unless it can get not only the blessings of the two namesake state tribes but a 30-year agreement with those tribes, the state Board of Higher Education decided Thursday.
It's a condition that appears all but impossible given the reality of tribal divisions, the timing of elections on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and the extensive negotiations that would be necessary for such a long-term agreement.
The board weighed the nickname, which has been a UND tradition since the 1930s, against an opportunity to be a part of the Summit League athletic conference, which includes traditional rival North Dakota State University, and beginning in 2001 the University of South Dakota.
Board member Grant Shaft, who is chairman of a committee that has been studying the issue, and fellow board member Duaine Espegard of Grand Forks told the board they visited with Summit League Commissioner Tom Douple in Chicago a few weeks ago. There were told there is room for one more team in the league and six universities have applied.
Douple also made it clear that there is no guarantee UND will get in the league with the nickname gone, Shaft said. Still, Shaft said he believes it would make the most logical sense, considering how Douple wants to consolidate the league in the Dakotas.
Shaft initially recommended an Aug. 1 deadline to begin retiring the nickname. Board member Pam Kostelecky felt Oct. 1 would be better because it would give Standing Rock nickname supporters a chance to issue a referendum either at the July 15 primary election or the Sept. 15 tribal election.
The Spirit Lake tribe overwhelmingly voted last month to support the nickname.
The full retirement of the nickname would have to be done by Aug. 1, 2010.
Under an original timetable laid out by the state board, UND had until February 2010 to win the blessings of the namesake tribes. If not, it was to fully retire the nickname by Nov. 30, 2010, as required by the legal settlement between UND and the NCAA, which opposes Indian nicknames.
The Summit League appears to be the ideal athletic conference for UND because most of its members are Midwestern universities, Shaft said. Besides reviving old rivalries with NDSU and SDSU, it would cut down on travel costs significantly.
"UND has some horrendous traveling expenses with its minor teams, volleyball, baseball," he said. It's possible to combine team travel and save a lot of money, he said.
Another advantage is the Summit League has an automatic berth at NCAA playoffs, Shaft said. NDSU's men's basketball team got in the tournament this year because it was league champion.
League membership has also helped NDSU with stronger enrollment and donations, he said.
Douple earlier said he would not consider an application from UND until the nickname issue is resolved.
League members worry that competing with UND before the nickname is resolved could bring "trouble" to their campuses, he told the board. "It's baggage that UND tends to bring along that disrupts their perfect world, so to speak."
UND President Robert Kelley said if the nickname does change, he will form an "inclusive planning committee" to gather input. Until that committee decides on a new nickname, he said, UND will be known simply as "UND."