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NCAA remains firm on Fighting Sioux name, logo

UND Fighting Sioux logo

GRAND FORKS - Nothing has changed.

That's the message University of North Dakota President Robert Kelley received Tuesday from the NCAA, after Kelley queried the association on where things stand.

In a letter dated Friday, Kelley asked for "clarification of the NCAA's position regarding the relationship between the University of North Dakota and the NCAA (with specific reference to the 2007 settlement agreement)."

Kelley also asked "whether the NCAA is willing to revisit, in any aspect, the terms of the agreement," given that the university "will be bound by state law" after Aug. 1 when a new statute requiring retention of the name and logo takes effect.

In a response dated and received Tuesday, Bernard Franklin, NCAA vice president of membership and student-athlete affairs, said the association's position remains firm.

"The NCAA's position regarding its relationship with the State of North Dakota on this issue is set forth in the parties' binding settlement agreement signed Oct. 26, 2007," Franklin wrote.

"In that document, it was agreed that the policy will apply to North Dakota unless North Dakota either (1) secures namesake approval by Nov. 30, 2010, or (2) transitions away from the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo before Aug. 15, 2011."

The state "did not obtain necessary support from the identified Sioux tribes," he noted, and Kelley's letter on Friday "makes clear that North Dakota will not transition from the current nickname and logo."

Consequently, "North Dakota will be subject to the provisions of the policy," Franklin wrote.

Those provisions include sanctions barring UND teams from hosting post-season tournaments or wearing proscribed attire during such tournaments.

The new North Dakota law "cannot change the NCAA policy nor alter the contracted terms of the agreement," Franklin wrote.

Franklin concluded his letter by telling Kelley he is "happy to talk with you about any questions relating to the policy," but his response appears to indicate the NCAA is not inclined to alter terms of the 2007 settlement.

The exchange of letters came after the NCAA advised Kelley last week that it would not attend a meeting that had been arranged for this Friday in Bismarck, at which state and UND officials had hoped to sound out President Mark Emmert and Franklin on whether adoption of the law and other developments could open the door to changes in the settlement.

The sudden decision of the NCAA officials not to participate in such a meeting followed debate among North Dakota officials as to whether the meeting should be open to the public and news media. Grant Shaft, vice president of the State Board of Higher Education and an organizer of that sit-down, has said he believes the likelihood that it would be open discouraged the NCAA officials.

Kelley was not immediately available for comment on Franklin's response to his query.

Backers of the new state law had expressed confidence that such a declaration by the state, coupled with passage of a pro-nickname referendum on the Spirit Lake Sioux Reservation and evidence of support on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, could persuade the NCAA to modify its position.

Earl Strinden, a former leader of UND's Alumni Association, backed the legislative action. He said Tuesday that the NCAA's latest statement "is not anything to be overly concerned about."

Strinden, a former Republican majority leader in the state House, said he's convinced the NCAA leaders still could be moved.

"I'm not surprised by this, and I'm not concerned about it," he said. "The fact that the meeting was going to be an open meeting caused them to cancel, but there will be, I'm confident, a meeting coming up when the Legislature is over.

"They were coming to North Dakota" until they learned the meeting would be open. "Why would they come to North Dakota if they weren't willing to talk about it?"