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Board chooses not to retire controversial UND nickname just yet

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DEVILS LAKE, N.D. -- The North Dakota Board of Higher Education decided today not to retire the University of North Dakota's controversial Fighting Sioux nickname just yet, despite board members' earlier indications they wanted to.

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Board members discussed the matter at their meeting today here at Lake Region State College, but did not take action.

The board is waiting for the North Dakota Supreme Court to rule on an appeal which could require the board to keep the nickname until at least Nov. 30. Nickname supporters from the Spirit Lake Dakotah Nation filed the appeal to prevent the higher ed board from retiring the nickname early. The case is expected to be heard March 23.

The board has wrestled with the issue since 2005 when UND opposed an NCAA demand to drop the nickname. The organization, which governs collegiate sports, considers American Indian nicknames offensive. The matter became a board responsibility and, following a lawsuit and a settlement, UND had until Nov. 30 this year to win the approval of both the state's Sioux tribes or stop using the nickname.

Last year, the university's desire to join the Summit League athletic conference to begin building its Division I teams convinced the board to push the deadline up. The league says it won't accept an application until the nickname issue is resolved, meaning either the nickname is retired or both tribes approve.

However, only Spirit Lake has approved following a referendum. Nickname supporters from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe are still gathering signatures for a petition to convince their tribal council to allow a similar referendum.

Last month, the board decided to wait for the Supreme Court decision out of respect for the court process.

This was in spite of UND President Robert Kelley and Athletic Director Brian Faison urging the board to move on. At the time, Faison said that UND had roughly until about the middle of this month to settle the nickname issue and apply to the Summit League to get in the 2011-2012 game schedules or face waiting another year. That appears to be no longer true.

Board member Grant Shaft told the board today that, upon further questioning of Faison, he understands that there are two opportunities for UND to apply to join the league, once early in March when league members meet by telephone and once in June when they meet in person. The June meeting is the more critical one, Shaft said, though Faison still maintained that the sooner the nickname is dealt with the better.

The only board member who favored retiring the nickname today was Mike Haugen, who motioned for the board to abide by its decision in October. But no one seconded his motion and no one made any other motion, so the board's earlier decision to wait out the court is still in effect, according to board Vice President Jon Backes.

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The Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald and the Echo Press are owned by Forum Communications Company.

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