All it took was a few thousand signatures.
Back in November, I wrote about the controversy at the University of North Dakota, the last NCAA school with a Native American-related nickname whose status is still in dispute. After the university dropped its nickname at the beginning of the year, it looked like it was all over. But there is one more plot twist.
A law requiring the school to use its longtime nickname and logo, which shows the profile of an American Indian warrior, was repealed eight months after it took effect last year in a bid to help the university avoid NCAA sanctions. But ardent nickname supporters filed petitions with more than 17,000 signatures late Tuesday, demanding that the issue be put to a statewide vote.
To put it the simplest way possible, this is a petition to establish a referendum to overturn the repeal of a law that contradicted the NCAA rule which requires the university to cease using the Sioux nickname and logo. The state legislature repealed the law when they saw the NCAA had not budged and the required use of the Sioux nickname would only cause a hardship for the university.
A little more history:
The NCAA has famously deemed the University of North Dakota's athletic nickname as "hostile and abusive" and several noisy protest groups (only a very small minority of them actually containing Native Americans) have called - for decades now - for the teams there to find a new name. The school even announced its intention to bow to the pressure and retire the nickname by the end of the current season.
Then, the state legislature in North Dakota stepped in, and passed a law mandating that teams representing the state's oldest institution of higher learning be called the Fighting Sioux. Caught between the demands of the NCAA (which controls their athletic fate) and the state legislature (which pays their bills), the university was stuck in a state of limbo, hopeful that the lawmakers in Bismarck will repeal the state law later this month and allow them to move forward.
Even though the statewide election won't be held for months, the North Dakota referendum process has an interesting immediate effect.
As part of that process, the law -- which the university, the state Board of Higher Education and local lawmakers oppose -- temporarily goes back into effect. ...
"As soon as that petition was filed last night, the law reverts," University president Robert Kelley told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "I don't want to violate the law."
So the school will temporarily reinstate the old mascot in accordance with the un-repealed state law, disqualifying its sports teams from NCAA competition. March is tourney time, and that potentially sets up a major clash. North Dakota is currently ranked #14 in the USCHO.com poll and #14 in the Pairwise Rankings, which would likely put them in the 16-team tournament as a 4-seed in the Midwest Regional. The team would either have to violate state law by shedding their nickname and logo, or be disqualified from the tournament.
Another really interesting part of this saga is that there are two Sioux tribes in the state of North Dakota: the Spirit Lake tribe and the Standing Rock tribe. The tribal council of the Standing Rock opposes the nickname and even refuses to let their tribe members vote on the issue. On the other hand, the Spirit Lake tribe supports the nickname and is suing the NCAA to allow the university to keep it. Some of their members worked on the petition drive.
“We worked in the cold weather. We froze. But even though we went through all that, it was really an experience, learning how to do this,” Eunice Davidson, a member of the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe, told the AP. She supports the Fighting Sioux nickname and has spent hours over recent weeks outside UND’s Ralph Engelstad Arena to gather signatures.
Let it not be said that political correctness always produces boring results.
(photo credit: Eric Hylden, Grand Forks Herald)