On Tuesday, the state of North Dakota voted to retire the University of North Dakota nickname, the Fighting Sioux.
This decision will impact the university in many ways, most notably that UND will no longer have to function under sanctions from the NCAA for having nickname that was deemed “hostile and abusive” in 2005.
Several universities like Minnesota and Wisconsin also stated that they would no longer play North Dakota in sporting events so long as they continued using the Fighting Sioux nickname. Normally teams from the Big Ten refusing to play a school in their first year of Division I eligibility doesn’t sound like a big deal, until you remember that hockey is a major sport in the upper Midwest and these colleges normally play each other up to four or five times a year.
It also means that they will be able to have conference affiliation in such an important time for the school’s athletic history. In keeping the nickname, the school risked being kicked out of the Big Sky Conference, which they were to officially join this upcoming year. Not that the Big Sky Conference was set to kick them out (or discuss it publicly), but there was a lot of speculation that it was a possibility, especially after the University of South Dakota backed out and joined the Summit League, the same conference as UND’s in-state rival NDSU.
Without USD joining UND, the Big Sky Conference now has an odd number of teams, 13, and North Dakota is without a travel partner, placing them 600 miles away from the next closest school, Montana. Obviously a conference functions better with an even number of schools (easier scheduling) and schools that are all within the same proximity of each other (ditto).
These are two pretty good reasons to cut ties with a school that is carrying around NCAA sanctions. But now that the UND nickname is going to be retired, there seems to be no reason to be kicked out of the conference.
So what positives does this decision bring for UND? Quite a few.
First, it means they will need to find a new nickname, which is never an easy process. Expect to see a lot of opposition and debate as to what the school decides to call itself for (hopefully) 50 to 100 years. My vote: the University of North Dakota Oilers (thanks Williston).
Second, it means they will be able to recruit without opposing schools hanging the nicknames and sanctions over their head. If there is one thing we know about college recruiting, it’s that it is cut throat, and it is almost guaranteed that rival schools were using the Fighting Sioux nickname against UND.
In fact, in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s election, head coaches from UND made a tour around North Dakota to publicly address how difficult it has been to field competitive teams under the current sanctions and just how much harder it would be if the Fighting Sioux nickname were to carry on.
Third, it “guarantees” UND conference affiliation. Obviously there is no guarantee when it comes to college teams and conference alignment as the BCS has shown us, but UND is about as close as they can get, especially since they will be competing in the FCS, which doesn’t appear to be falling apart quite yet. 10 years from now, maybe, but as of 2012, UND appears to be safely locked into a stable and high class conference.
Fourth, and finally, it will allow UND to continue a rivalry with NDSU in football.
Before NDSU declared they were moving to Division 1 in 2003, NDSU and UND were in the same conference and played every year for the Nickel Trophy, and most often the conference title. Since NDSU made the move up, the two schools have squared off in almost every other sport other than football.
There are plenty of reasons for UND to want to revive their relationship with the NDSU football program, especially considering North Dakota State is the reigning FCS National Champions and appear to be favorites to repeat in 2012, but that is a completely different topic.
All in all, the retirement of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo can be perceived as a win for the University of North Dakota, at least on an athletic basis.
Naturally there will be protests and lawsuits for those that still believe the university could compete at a high level with the old nickname, but for now, after seven years, the University of North Dakota finally seems to be on the same playing field as the rest of the nation.
Congratulations, UND. Welcome to the real world of college athletics. Good luck.