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Published April 01, 2011, 03:35 PM

ND Officials to Meet with NCAA on Fighting Sioux Nickname

The president of the NCAA and its chief inclusion officer plan to attend an April 22 meeting in Bismarck to discuss the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The head of the NCAA and the official who oversees its diversity efforts plan to meet with Gov. Jack Dalrymple and state officials April 22 to discuss the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname.

NCAA President Mark Emmert and Bernard Franklin, an executive vice president and chief inclusion officer for the college athletics association, have agreed to come to Bismarck April 22 to meet with state officials, Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the House majority leader, said Friday.

Last month, the North Dakota Legislature approved a bill that requires the Grand Forks school to keep its nickname and an American Indian head logo, both of which the NCAA considers hostile and abusive to American Indians. The new law takes effect Aug. 1.

The university had been planning to retire the nickname and logo in August as part of the settlement of a lawsuit the state Board of Higher Education filed against the NCAA in an effort to help UND continue to use them.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border south of Bismarck, declined to endorse UND's continued use of the nickname, which was one of the NCAA's conditions for allowing UND to keep it. The school's president, Robert Kelley, was then directed to retire the logo and nickname, a process that the new legislation has put on hold.

The meeting will not be open to the public, said Grant Shaft, the Board of Higher Education's vice president. In an emailed response to questions on Friday, Shaft said Kelley had reached out to the NCAA at the behest of himself and Jon Backes, the board's president.

Shaft said the meeting's purpose was "first, to determine the NCAA's position with respect to the newly signed legislation. Second, to explore any and all opportunities at resolving the matter."

Shaft said Dalrymple, Kelley, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, UND athletics director Brian Faison and William Goetz, chancellor of the state university system, have been invited, as have Carlson and Sen. Bob Stenehjem, R-Bismarck, the Senate's majority leader.

Carlson was the chief sponsor of the legislation that orders UND to keep the nickname and logo. It prompted an avalanche of pro-nickname emails to lawmakers, and won approval by large margins in both the North Dakota House and Senate. Dalrymple signed it into law March 15.

The nickname's supporters say it is used with respect and bridle at suggestions that it is hostile and racist.

"We're going to explain to them why we passed (the legislation), and see where we are at," Carlson said.

April 22 is Good Friday, which is a state holiday in North Dakota and the targeted ending date for the 2011 session of the North Dakota Legislature. Carlson and Stenehjem said Friday the meeting with the NCAA officials was originally suggested for Grand Forks, but they said they would not attend because they could not leave the Capitol in the session's final days.

Shaft said the Good Friday date was "nobody's idea, just many busy people with busy schedules. (It) was the only day that would work."

In what nickname supporters consider to be an ironic twist, the NCAA is selling Fighting Sioux merchandise on its website to promote its Frozen Four Division I men's hockey championship in St. Paul, Minn., April 7-9. The finalists are North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth, Michigan and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.