BISMARCK, N.D. — State senators voted Tuesday to let the University of North Dakota scrap its Fighting Sioux athletics nickname, but ordered the school to wait three years to pick a replacement for a name the NCAA says is offensive to American Indians.
State law requires UND’s athletics teams to be known as the Fighting Sioux. The school has sought to retire its nickname for years, and UND has been under sanctions from the NCAA since August for keeping the name and a logo that depicts the profile of an American Indian warrior.
“Let us … recognize that being forced to change what you’re called doesn’t mean changing who you are,” said state Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, a former UND football player.
“We are the University of North Dakota, and we’ll always be fighting,” Schneider said.
The state Senate voted 39-7 to approve the legislation, sending it to the House, which has been more hostile to dumping the nickname. Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, the chairwoman of the House Education Committee, said she believed the measure would win House approval.
The proposed three-year wait “gives the emotions a little bit of time to heal, whether they actually will or not,” Kelsch said.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who would have to sign an approved bill into law, has already expressed support for retiring the UND nickname and an American Indian school logo.
UND supporters say the law has caused scheduling problems with schools that object to the name. It has been under fresh scrutiny since 2005, when the NCAA listed UND among a group of schools with objectionable American Indian nicknames, logos and mascots.
Since August, the NCAA has banned UND from hosting postseason tournaments and has said the school’s athletes may not wear uniforms with the nickname or logo during postseason play.
Brian Faison, the university’s athletics director, said the nickname’s continued use has made it difficult to schedule rival schools, including Minnesota and Wisconsin, and has cast doubt on whether UND will be allowed to join the Big Sky Conference in July.
Under an amendment approved earlier Tuesday in the Legislature’s education committees, the Grand Forks school would be prohibited from choosing a new nickname or logo before Jan. 1, 2015. The university could retire its present nickname before that.
“There is a deep sense of loss and sadness that really cannot be dismissed or, really, underestimated,” said Rep. Stacey Dahl, R-Grand Forks, who wrote the amendment. “Let’s let everything settle. Let everyone, for lack of a better term, cool off.”
Grant Shaft, president of the state Board of Higher Education, said the board and UND did not object to Dahl’s proposal.
Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the House majority leader, drafted a second amendment that said UND could not retire its nickname and logo until all lawsuits involving its continued use had been settled. Since August, opponents and supporters of the nickname have filed competing lawsuits in federal court.
Carlson was the primary sponsor of the existing state law that requires UND’s teams to be known as the Fighting Sioux. His new proposal didn’t get a vote Tuesday in the legislative education committees.
Duaine Espegard, the vice president of North Dakota’s Board of Higher Education, called it “foolery” and “wrongheaded.”
Espegard, a former Republican state senator from Grand Forks, said during a hearing of the two education committees Tuesday that he probably would have voted for Carlson’s earlier pro-nickname bill, which has been law since March.
“I didn’t understand, at the time, all of the ramifications. But I do understand, and I think you all do today, the ramifications of this law, and today it’s time to repeal the law,” Espegard said. “Let’s move the University of North Dakota forward and get by this very divisive thing.”