By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If you have an old University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux t-shirt and are thinking of using it to wash your car, don't do it! It may very well enter the realm of collector's item or classic throwback sooner rather than later.
A controversy has been brewing for a couple of years regarding the school's Native American-themed nickname. The NCAA deemed it necessary that the university ban the "Fighting Sioux" moniker, and the North Dakota Board of Higher Education agreed. However, with a deadline of August 15 fast approaching, students, administrators and boosters are having a difficult time saying goodbye, so much so that the state legislature got involved.
A decision was reached earlier this year by North Dakota lawmakers that required the university to retain both the moniker and logo. However, if the school defies the NCAA's fast-approaching deadline, it will not be permitted to host or even participate in any postseason events or tournaments.
So why, you may ask, are some programs able to continue operating with Native American nicknames, while others are being forced to make a change? It all comes down to whether there is an organized tribe of the respective moniker operating (seen living) within the school's home state, and whether that group is willing to grant the university its blessing to continue on with the name. For example, Florida State had to seek, and was granted, permission to retain "Seminoles". The University of Illinois lucked out because there is no tribe in the state to potentially oppose "Fighting Illini".
So even if there are tribes just outside the Illinois border that are vehemently opposed to the use of Illini, they have no recourse. Sound ridiculous to you? Me too.
There are two tribes of Sioux in North Dakota, and while one has given the university its blessing to retain the nickname, the other refuses to do so, hence the need for the change.
Would it surprise anyone if the United States Congress eventually got involved in the debate over Native American nicknames and passed a universal law? That seems to be the most fair way to solve these disputes. Should the Fighting Sioux be ousted while the most blatantly offensive nickname in all of sports (Redskins) continues to exist?
Can you imagine if we had the Wisconsin Whiteskins or the Baltimore Blackskins? Of course not. That's uncomfortable to even think about. Yet sadly, there seems to be so few Native Americans today that they have become all but forgotten, making names like "Redskins" passable. They are discussed only in history classes and regarded almost as mythical creatures.
Ultimately, the University of North Dakota will probably change its nickname from "Fighting Sioux" to something else that begins with the word "Fighting" and doesn't involve an ethnic group. The school will say that it is making the change for the right reasons, and that may be true to a certain extent. However, UND and all other institutions faced with the prospect of a change stand to gain something in addition to, and more significant than, a new logo. And that, of course, is money.
The minute the change is made, North Dakota will begin plastering a new logo on shirts, hats and anything else you can think of with a 500 percent mark-up. The state mammal of North Dakota is the Nokota Horse. If the school decides to put a noble or even militant horse head on its sports uniforms and bookstore apparel, how many of the thousands of enrolled students and alumni will flock to buy some updated gear? The answer is simple...plenty.
Nickname changes have worked out quite well financially for other universities in the past. Arkansas State saw a spike in donations when it was asked (see forced) to change its moniker from "Indians" to "Red Wolves". I have never met a Red Wolf but would certainly like to. And the new athletic uniforms at the school are much cooler than they were under the previous moniker. Sounds like a win-win to me.
The University of Louisiana-Monroe (ULM) experienced similar financial gain when it switched from "Indians" to "Warhawks". Plus, the new nickname has to be one of the best in all of sports, collegiate or otherwise. The merchandising opportunities alone made the switch worthwhile.
My advice to North Dakota is as follows: ditch the Native American nickname, start a contest among current students and alumni to choose a new one and reap the financial benefits. Even though North Dakota has the lowest rate of unemployment of any state in the U.S., there still has to be something more pressing for legislatures to discuss than this, don't ya think?
07/29 09:22:05 ET