UND coaches say price of nickname is too steepBlue-chip recruits, high-profile games, and opportunities for student athletes are all at risk until the University of North Dakota moves away from the embattled Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, a group of the school’s athletic coaches said Tuesday.
By: By Marino Eccher, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — Blue-chip recruits, high-profile games, and opportunities for student athletes are all at risk until the University of North Dakota moves away from the embattled Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, a group of the school’s athletic coaches said Tuesday.
Five coaches spoke in Fargo and Bismarck on a swing through the state to lay out the case for a “yes” vote on Measure 4, which would allow the university to retire the nickname. Brian Faison, the university’s athletic director, was also on hand.
Nickname supporters, meanwhile, said the coaches were simply doing UND’s bidding, and that keeping the nickname was still the right thing to do.
The stump sessions aimed to undercut suggestions by the pro-nickname camp that the university can live with the sanctions levied by the NCAA. The organization considers the nickname and logo hostile or abusive to American Indians.
“The sanctions are real,” said Kevin Galbraith, the university’s cross country coach. “I have to deal with it all the time.”
He said his program has been barred from attractive regional events and struggled to offer recruits a clear picture of when and where they’d be able to compete.
Women’s hockey coach Brian Idalski cited similar problems with recruits, and women’s basketball coach Travis Brewster said some potential staff hires have backed away because of the ongoing controversy.
“They’ve just flat-out said, ‘no thanks, coach, I don’t want to deal with the issue,’” Brewster said.
Men’s hockey coach Dave Hakstol, once an outspoken supporter of keeping the nickname, now says doing so would cost his program storied rivalry series with the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin.
He also said it would unfairly cripple teams in sports in which NCAA tournament events are held at campus sites. Under the sanctions, UND would be barred from hosting such events.
“The significant reduction in opportunities for success for these teams and for these student athletes is not acceptable,” he said.
Hakstol said he changed his stance after a meeting between North Dakota leaders and NCAA officials last summer that effectively quashed hopes for a resolution without sanctions.
“That made this process and this decision and this choice very clear,” he said. He also said he still believes the school has upheld the nickname and logo with pride and dignity.
Reed Soderstrom, a Minot attorney who represents the pro-nickname Committee for Understanding and Respect, said he had “no doubt” the coaches were being pressured by the university to take a public stand against the nickname.
“I think they’re being good soldiers for UND,” he said. “I don’t believe they’re coming forward because they want to.”
The coaches and Faison said they were campaigning of their own volition and on their own time — a key distinction because the university itself can’t spend money on the campaign.
The UND Alumni Association, which has spearheaded the campaign against the nickname, said it paid for the trip.
Soderstrom suggested Hakstol’s stance in particular was related to his contract, which was renewed a few months after Hakstol first came out in favor of retiring the nickname. Hakstol has denied a connection.
Chris Mussman, UND’s head football coach, said nobody had to twist his arm to get him to speak out on the issue given the gravity of the sanctions.
“I would do it next week if we need to,” he said. “It’s that important.”
He said losing conference affiliation because of the nickname would be a huge challenge for his program.
Soderstrom said he doesn’t think the issue is actually driving away recruits, and that the NCAA sanctions are workable.
“It has caused conversation and dialogue,” he said. “Whether or not it has simply prevented anyone from coming, I simply don’t buy that,” he said.
He said bending to the NCAA on the issue sends the wrong message.
“What are these coaches actually saying about character or about standing up for what’s right?” he said. “We all know that the name’s been honored.”
He also said he believes the NCAA will eventually change its stance and allow the nickname — something Faison, the athletic director, said will not happen.
Soderstrom said he still thinks the vote will be competitive. He said it’s frustrating to have coaches who are revered by many pro-nickname fans stumping against his campaign, but tipped his hat to the strategy.
“I think it’s very effective,” he said.
Marino Eccher is a reporter
at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.