NCAA, not Big Sky, deserves committee's wrath
The problem in the Fighting Sioux nickname dispute is not the Big Sky Conference. Nor is the problem the state Legislature. Nor is it the governor or the state Board of Higher Education. The problem is the NCAA. The NCAA has been the linchpin of ...
The problem in the Fighting Sioux nickname dispute is not the Big Sky Conference.
Nor is the problem the state Legislature. Nor is it the governor or the state Board of Higher Education.
The problem is the NCAA.
The NCAA has been the linchpin of this debate since it announced its anti-nickname policy in 2005. Every action, every decision on the nickname since then has turned on the NCAA rule.
For if the NCAA had not changed its rules, then while the nickname would have remained a simmering and occasionally flaring controversy at the University of North Dakota, the university today almost certainly would have no plans to change the name.
But the NCAA did change its rules. And because -- unlike any other interest or pressure group -- the NCAA has monopoly power and muscle in college sports, the NCAA can hurt UND badly if UND doesn't comply.
That means UND must comply -- or it risks crippling harm.
It's as simple as that. The NCAA has the hammer, and the NCAA chose to swing it.
Given all of this, may we respectfully suggest to Spirit Lake's Committee for Understanding and Respect that they turn their attention to the NCAA?
Because at this point, the only way for UND to both keep the Fighting Sioux nickname and move forward to a bright and secure future in Division I athletics is for the NCAA to change its mind.
Just as important, the Spirit Lake committee's current focus on the Big Sky Conference not only attacks a target on the sidelines but also poses a threat to UND athletics.
Because while the Big Sky Conference has no power whatsoever over the NCAA or the UND nickname, it does have the power to accept or reject UND.
And if the Big Sky's presidents decide UND's membership would cause problems, then they'll reject the university's membership bid. That would seriously hurt UND sports, which means it would hurt UND itself.
Think about this from the view of those presidents. They have something UND wants: Division I conference membership. But already, their conference is getting scolded in letters from the Spirit Lake committee. Among other things, the most recent letter said, "We do wish to advise you that if you continue on your present course in this matter, you do so at your own risk."
If you were a Big Sky president, would this make you more or less likely to welcome UND?
As long as the NCAA policy stands, then getting mad at the Big Sky conference would seem to do little except put UND's conference membership at risk. That's why the Spirit Lake Committee might consider redirecting its attention to the group that's driving this controversy: the NCAA.
True, the odds of the NCAA changing its mind are not good. North Dakota already brought its big guns to bear in that effort. The governor, attorney general and legislative leaders all visited Indianapolis, armed with a state law passed by massive majorities in the Legislature.
It didn't work. North Dakota's cannonballs bounced off the NCAA's fortress of stone, not even seeming to leave much of a scratch.
So, the prospect of the Spirit Lake Committee succeeding where the state of North Dakota failed seems remote.
But those low odds of success are better than the high odds of conflict and loss, which can play out if the Big Sky Conference says "no" to UND and/or if the Legislature refuses to let UND comply with the NCAA's rules. Those are the outcomes all UND supporters should try to avoid.
Spirit Lake tribal leaders and members have every right to be mad. But anger is a powerful thing; and if it's misdirected, it can hurt institutions and people who are not the anger's cause.
In this case, the cause of the anger is the NCAA.
That's where the power lies. That's where the leadership holds the anti-nickname hammer.
And that's where the committee should direct its persuasive powers.