N.D. vote lets school scrap Fighting Sioux nickname

Published 10:53 pm Tuesday, June 12, 2012

FARGO, N.D. — Voters approved a measure Tuesday that lets the University of North Dakota dump its controversial Fighting Sioux nickname and avoid NCAA sanctions, and advocates for retiring the moniker expressed relief that the years-old battle appeared to be nearing its end.

The issue has been simmering for decades, dividing the state, sports fans, alumni and even area tribes. But it boiled over seven years ago when UND was placed on a list of schools with American Indian nicknames that the NCAA deemed hostile and abusive. Those colleges were told to dump the names or risk sanctions against their athletic teams.

Voters in Tuesday’s North Dakota primary were being asked whether to uphold or reject the Legislature’s repeal of a state law requiring the school to use the nickname and American Indian head logo.

Email newsletter signup

The vote sends the matter back to the state’s Board of Higher Education, which is expected to retire the moniker and American Indian head logo.

“This is a political matter with no celebration,” said Tim O’Keefe, executive vice president and CEO of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation. “We’ve said all along that this is not an issue about preference. Clearly if that were the case, the name would be staying. The price of keeping the name is simply too high.”

Frank Burggraf, a former Sioux hockey player and member of the group to save the nickname, said the goal of his committee was to give the people a vote.

“We will see what happens next,” he said.

Advocates for retiring the nickname say the issue is hurting the athletic department in recruiting and scheduling. Supporters of the name say coaches and administrators are exaggerating the harmful effects and don’t believe the NCAA sanctions are a big deal.

The group that collected petitions for the ballot measure has said it will pursue another vote in the fall to make Fighting Sioux part of the state constitution.

O’Keefe said the alumni association spent about $250,000 on the campaign to retire the nickname, all through donations. His group is prepared to launch a similar effort against a possible constitutional amendment, but O’Keefe is calling on the nickname backers to stand down.

“All it does is hold the University of North Dakota hostage and create more division,” he said.