Faison defends remarks on Big Sky concernsPeople hoping to preserve UND’s Fighting Sioux nickname are challenging Athletic Director Brian Faison’s account earlier this month of concerns raised by Big Sky Conference officials, and Faison conceded Tuesday that his report of growing concern on the part of Big Sky athletic directors “was a misstatement on my part.”
By: By Chuck Haga , Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
People hoping to preserve UND’s Fighting Sioux nickname are challenging Athletic Director Brian Faison’s account earlier this month of concerns raised by Big Sky Conference officials, and Faison conceded Tuesday that his report of growing concern on the part of Big Sky athletic directors “was a misstatement on my part.”
The assessment of conference members’ “serious concern” was made by Big Sky Commissioner Doug Fullerton to Faison following a conference call with other conference athletic directors, Faison said.
Fullerton was referring to growing concern among some presidents of Big Sky schools, not the athletic directors.
“I have talked with different athletic directors in the league, and some of them have shared their concern” about the nickname issue, Faison said.
“But that particular comment was made in reference to a conversation with Fullerton,” he said. The nickname “was not part of the athletics directors’ conversation other than Doug talking about it. He reviewed the situation here.”
After the call, “We were talking about the presidents, and Doug shared with me that, in his conversations with the presidents, that the issue had gone from a concern to major concern with regard to the referendum and where that was taking us,” Faison said Tuesday.
“And at the end of the day, this is all about the presidents,” he said. “The presidents will make the decision” if a question rises about UND’s continuing membership in the conference.
ADs didn’t express concern
UND had effectively retired the Fighting Sioux nickname by late December but restored it earlier this month when the filing of referral petitions had the effect of reinstating a state law requiring its use.
Nickname supporters have cried foul since former UND athletic director Terry Wanless, now athletic director at Big Sky member Sacramento State, said during a Feb. 13 radio interview that the nickname’s potential effect on UND’s membership status did not come up during the conference call.
“It certainly continues to generate a lot of conversation and interest across the Big Sky Conference,” Wanless said, and “it’s obviously been discussed at the presidents’ level.” But “we have never as … athletic directors had a reason really to discuss it,” he said.
A link to that interview, which was broadcast over KFGO-AM in Fargo, was widely shared online, with some nickname supporters citing it to accuse Faison of lying and participating in an orchestrated campaign to stoke fear.
“Once again,” one blog poster wrote, “UND seemingly has been caught stretching the facts to fit the reality they want us to believe.”
Faison denied that and said he was trying to convey his sense of where UND and the conference stand, but misstated the group that had expressed concern.
In the radio interview, Wanless said that Fullerton “has been pretty consistent in his approach, that the main thing the conference wants is to get the issue behind the university” so it doesn’t hamper UND’s ability to contribute.
“It’s not so much that we agree or disagree with the nickname,” said Wanless, who said he personally remains a defender of the Fighting Sioux name. “It’s more about getting the issue settled so we can worry about bigger things.”
Effective in D-1?
Fullerton has made similar statements in interviews, including one with the Herald immediately after the Feb. 8 conference call with athletic directors.
“Our concern, as before, is not that they are the Fighting Sioux,” Fullerton said, “but rather whether they can be an effective Division I program and a benefit to our conference.
“There’s a range of concern among the presidents of our institutions,” he said. “Some presidents are very concerned about this issue, and some are not very concerned. But nobody in the presidents’ group wants to act precipitously,” so Big Sky officials and member presidents would “continue to monitor the situation.”
Faison also responded Tuesday to other points raised by Wanless during the radio interview and cited by nickname supporters as evidence that Faison and other UND officials were trying to mislead people.
“One of the things Terry brought up was that he didn’t think it would be a problem for us to schedule opponents, that Florida State and Utah didn’t have any problems scheduling,” Faison said.
Florida State (Seminoles) and Utah (Utes) won exemptions from the NCAA policy against use of American Indian names and imagery and thus were spared the sanctions now applied to UND.
“They got the required approval from the namesake tribes, so they weren’t on the sanction list,” Faison said.
He also disputed Wanless’ view that an accommodation with the NCAA still could be worked out, allowing UND to keep the nickname and avoid penalties.
“I’m always optimistic and hopeful that things can be worked out,” Wanless said. He added that he is “concerned about battle fatigue” and “capitulations” sapping the ranks of nickname defenders.
“Right is still right,” he said.
But Faison said, “The NCAA position has not changed, and there’s been no indication they’re going to change. From that, everything flows,” including problems with scheduling, maintaining traditional rivalries and completing the move into the Big Sky Conference and Division I athletics.
The nickname struggle continues to draw reaction from around the country, including harsh judgment in a column published Tuesday by Star Tribune sports columnist Rachel Blount, who wrote that nickname supporters “rage on, even as their unwinnable cause wreaks havoc on an institution they claim to care about.”
Nickname supporters’ “refusal to face reality has escalated from the embarrassing to the destructive, endangering the school’s ability to succeed in Division I sports and harming its national image,” she wrote. “They are so single-minded in their attachment to a sports-team nickname that they want it engraved in the state constitution, as if it were essential to a free society.
“If they truly treasured UND, they would recognize that no symbol — no matter how beloved — is worth this kind of blind allegiance.”
Blount’s column was quickly reposted by other newspapers, including the Boston Herald, and drew scores of comments — from vigorously supportive to weary to hotly disputing — on the Star Tribune website.
Haga is a news writer for the Grand Forks Herald