No-name North Dakota? At least for NCAA tourney
One source of the immense national interest in major college sports lies in the identity of the schools themselves, right down to the nickname.
But as the University of North Dakota starts the NCAA Division I men’s hockey tournament this weekend, the jerseys will look a little bare. The NCAA ban of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo—deemed “hostile and abusive” by the NCAA—has officially taken effect despite years of defiance and lingering legal challenges from proud supporters.
That means North Dakota will take the ice in St. Paul, Minn., for its West Regional semifinal game against Western Michigan as, well, North Dakota. The team will don new jerseys without the nickname or the logo for the first time Saturday afternoon. Same for the uniforms of the cheerleaders and band members, too.
“It’s sad that we don’t get to wear it, but at the same time we’re trying to win a hockey game against Western Michigan,” said captain Mario Lamoureux, the only North Dakota native on the roster. “If anyone’s focus is on the jersey or what we have to wear, they should change that right away.”
UND ordered 30 new sets of jerseys and socks in each of their three color schemes—white, green and black—at a cost of $21,000, said Patrick Swanson, the team’s director of operations.
The NCAA in 2005 told North Dakota and more than a dozen other schools with American Indian nicknames or logos that to avoid sanctions, they needed to change or obtain permission from local tribes to keep them. Most switched, though some like the Florida State Seminoles and the Central Michigan Chippewas received tribal permission.
North Dakota has put up quite a fight.
The state passed a law a year ago requiring the school’s sports teams to use the nickname and logo, which depicts the profile of an American Indian warrior. That was repealed eight months later and then revived in a referendum campaign that fetched more than 17,000 signatures.
The referendum is scheduled for June, when voters will decide whether the law should be kept or repealed. The law is opposed by the university, the state’s board of higher education and local politicians, who are ready to put the Fighting Sioux conflict in the past.
Even with the law’s fate still up in the air, the NCAA ban means no use of the nickname or logo in postseason play, or else UND would forfeit those games.
The school also is barred from hosting postseason tournaments even though college hockey’s Taj Mahal, the $100 million Ralph Engelstad Arena, would be an ideal place for an NCAA regional. The arena has at least 3,000 Fighting Sioux logos in the building, including a 10-foot sketch of the logo embedded in the granite lobby floor.
Minnesota Twins president Dave St. Peter, who graduated from UND in 1989 before climbing the ranks of the baseball organization, recalled the controversy even when he was in school.
“As proud as I am of the Fighting Sioux legacy, I’m equally proud of the state of North Dakota’s legacy,” he said. “I don’t think they can take away the name North Dakota. They’re going to be playing representing the state of North Dakota. To me, that’s still a pretty special honor. I’m not as concerned about the jersey they’re going to wear.”