FARGO, N.D. — The leader of University of North Dakota’s alumni on Tuesday kicked off a campaign to dump the school’s Fighting Sioux nickname by reeling off a list of schools that will no longer schedule UND in certain athletics until the issue is resolved.
Tim O’Keefe, CEO of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation, said neighboring South Dakota State has joined an increasing number of schools to snub the Grand Forks college because of the nickname. Other schools include Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota-Morris.
“This list keeps growing and it broadly impacts all our programs,” O’Keefe said Tuesday morning in the first of four news conferences scheduled around the state.
“Unless already contracted, South Dakota State has let us know that they will not agree to any further contracts until we’re in a good standing with the NCAA,” he said. “For those that would apply that these problems aren’t real, quite frankly, they simply aren’t paying attention.”
Justin Sell, the SDSU athletic director, said he talked with UND officials a year ago about putting a hold on future scheduling and was surprised that the issue came up Tuesday. SDSU does not have a written policy on nicknames like some other schools, he said.
“To be honest with you, this kind of came out of the blue for us,” he said about the UND group publicizing the issue. “We’re just taking a wait-and-see approach until we get more information on where things sit. It’s as simple as that for us.”
The Jackrabbits will play UND in football in 2013.
O’Keefe’s group is seeking support for a ballot measure that would allow the state Board of Higher Education to carry out plans to retire the nickname. A “no” vote on the measure would force UND to keep the moniker.
Sean Johnson, spokesman for the group that collected petitions to put the issue to a vote in the June primary, said in a statement Tuesday that the state’s two Sioux tribes haven’t had a voice in the nickname debate.
“The powerful forces against keeping the Fighting Sioux name continually overplay their hand,” Johnson said.
The debate started in 2005 when the NCAA listed 19 schools with American Indian nicknames, logos and mascots it deemed to be “hostile and abusive.” UND sued the NCAA, and that led to an agreement under which the school would retire the nickname unless it received approval from both the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribes.
Only Spirit Lake passed a resolution supporting the name.
A law requiring the school to keep the moniker was repealed eight months after it took effect last year, after the NCAA refused to budge on sanctions. But ardent nickname supporters gained enough signatures to put the issue on the June 12 ballot, and the state Supreme Court last month refused to block that election.
Rick Burgum, chair of the UND Foundation, said the issue threatens not only UND’s membership in the Big Sky Conference, but its ability to stay at the Division I level. A longtime Division I school in hockey, UND is completing the transition to Division I in all sports.
“Even UND’s outstanding hockey program is at risk,” he said.
O’Keefe, a former UND hockey player, said that “like so many other Sioux fans,” he’s not happy to lose the nickname.
“It’s not about preference anymore. It’s about the price the University of North Dakota will pay if we’re forced to keep the nickname,” he said.
O’Keefe said school officials cannot promote a political position, so the campaign falls upon alumni. He wasn’t specific about the group’s budget, other than to say the money is from donations and not from existing programs.
“I’m sure we’ll spend a quarter of a million dollars, but in terms of an exact number we haven’t arrived at that. It’s a very fluid scenario,” he said.