By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
Editor’s Note: This column was originally published on April 25, 2011 by the College Sporting News and proved to be one of the most popular pieces in the decade-long history of the Football Championship Subdivision website. The introduction to the piece said “The NCAA shows that new leadership hasn’t changed its age-old problems as it takes on the University of North Dakota and the Fighting Sioux nickname.” Almost a year later, that fact seems to remain the same.
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — Every time there is a change of leadership in the offices of the NCAA, you can only hope that the new blood will result in some out-of-the-box thinking from one of the most bureaucratic organizations ever founded.
I had great expectations when I listened to the latest NCAA president, Mark Emmert, speak at a luncheon I attended in Frisco, TX. the day of the Division I Football Championship game.
Emmert was a breath of fresh air that afternoon as he outlined his plans for a more forthright NCAA. The one-time Montana State administrator even stayed around to watch Eastern Washington beat Delaware in the championship game.
But after reading about how the NCAA is treating the University of North Dakota, it looks like things are pretty much status quo for this most frustrating of organizations.
Let me get this straight, the NCAA cannot find a way to stand up to Cam Newton as his father tries to sell him off to the highest bidder, but it thinks it is important to bother UND about its supposedly politically insensitive nickname of the Fighting Sioux.
Nothing bothers me much more than hypocrisy and no organization epitomizes that term more than the NCAA, just as it has since the days of its first president, Walter Byers.
Its previous leader, the late Miles Brand, might have accomplished a lot during his tenure, particularly in the area of academic reform, but one of the biggest wastes of time during those years was the NCAA’s attack on Native American nicknames.
And it appears this Gestapo-like siege isn’t going to change under Emmert, the organization’s fifth executive director.
Some petty, dipstick of a bureaucrat named Bernard Franklin — officially an “executive vice president” with the NCAA — announced this week that it didn’t matter that the state of North Dakota had passed legislation requiring North Dakota to use its historical nickname of the Fighting Sioux, because the NCAA was ready to penalized UND anyway.
First off, as a means of full disclosure, I have some Cherokee blood running through my veins, so I know from history what it means to have a Native American group face discrimination.
If a team in North Carolina, or some other state with historical status wants to honor my Cherokee roots with a team moniker, I have zero problem with it, just as I don’t mind Notre Dame honoring some of my other ancestors by calling themselves the Fighting Irish.
How come Mr. Franklin isn’t strong-arming the folks at South Bend?
The biggest issue most people have with the NCAA is the uneven manner in which it handles its member instutions.
I still remember Jerry Tarkanian writing a column for the Long Beach Press-Telegram back in the 1970s where he criticized the institution for sanctioning small schools like Western Kentucky, which had just made the Final Four behind the play of 7-2 center Jim McDaniels, while ignoring the violations going on under their noses at places like Kentucky and UCLA.
Did that make enforcement personnel like David Berst look into the Wildcats, or Bruins?
No, it started a personal vendetta against Tarkanian by the NCAA that ended with the Supreme Court kicking Berst and company’s butts for failing to provide Tarkanian due process.
This is an organization that tried to force UNLV to fire the legendary coach, only to have numerous courts criticize its archaic investigation techniques.
The case ended with multi-million dollar settlement for Tarkanian. But the NCAA continued its witch hunt of Tarkanian’s teams until he retired.
In a recent viewing of the movie Blindside, the inspiring, Oscar-award-winning story of football star Michaal Oher, I saw that those investigative procedures haven’t changed a whole lot.
Oher was guilty of being unduly influenced for his decision to attend Mississippi until proven innocent.
The NCAA has seemingly had a core belief throughout its history that it is above the law and Franklin’s disrespect for the laws of North Dakota only furthers this perception.
If Franklin was one of my teenagers, I’d be ready to ground him for a month. If I ran the NCAA, Franklin would be the first person to get his walking papers.
How about a little respect for the rule of law for a change?
If you are a school like the Florida State Seminoles, or the Utah Utes, you throw a few tickets and some money at various tribal leaders and everything is hunky dory.
But if you are not one of the NCAA power brokers, you are viewed differently by the politically correct crowd.
The paint hasn’t dried on the new logos at William & Mary, where one of the oldest and most prestigious colleges in the country was forced to remove a feather from everything from uniforms to letterheads and media guides to meet the NCAA’s goofy standards.
If any school in the country should be able to represent its history with Native American symbolism, it is William & Mary — a college that was the first in the United States to instruct the native population.
I’d like to see this troll, Franklin, try to explain that one to me.
The NCAA didn’t seem to care much about North Dakota when the Grand Folks, N.D. school toiled in Division II. But once the Fighting Sioux made the decision to move to Division I, they were clearly lined up in the sights of Franklin and his ilk.
After negotiations that resembled a WWE cage match, the NCAA and North Dakota agreed that UND could keep its nickname if two Sioux tribes voted to allow the moniker.
One tribe from Spirit Lake gave its approval, but the other (Standing Rock) got caught up in a battle between tribal leaders (who disapproved and didn’t allow a full tribal vote) and the overall tribe (who largely approved of using the nickname) and the NCAA had its ammunition to force a change.
That’s when the North Dakota legislature decided to get involved. Both houses and the governor gave their seal of approval to the nickname and UND officials hoped that this would be enough to stymie the NCAA.
But Franklin wasn’t subdued. He fired off a letter to UND president Robert Kelley last week demanding that the school follow the 2007 agreement, or face penalties that included a ban on hosting postseason games and the prohibition of using the nickname, or logos on UND uniforms during playoff games.
“We thought it was important to clarify the NCAA’s position, given all of the activity that’s taken place with this issue over the last two months,” university spokesman Peter Johnson said last week. “I think the letter is pretty clear.”
A little too clear.
“Unfortunately, [the law] cannot change the NCAA policy, nor alter the contracted terms of the agreement,” Franklin wrote.
Franklin’s shot across the bow didn’t sit well with North Dakota’s lawmakers, who overwhelmingly passed the law.
North Dakota legislators and its governor, Jack Dalrymple, scheduled to meet with Franklin and Emmert on Friday, but the two NCAA officials bailed like aviators parachuting from a doomed fighter jet when they were informed that their meeting might be open to the public.
“I think the citizens of our state view this quite differently than they do,” said North Dakota Rep. Al Carlson, the Republican House majority leader and the sponsor of the legislation. “We want to know a lot more than what they’re going to do. We want to know the reasons why, and we want them to listen to our side of the story.”
So much for Emmert’s promise in Frisco to be more transparent. To me, the new NCAA director and Franklin couldn’t be more cowardly.
Here was a copy of the e-mail that Franklin sent last week canceling the meeting:
“Dear Dr. Kelley:
Thank you for your follow-up e-mail. Given the passage of HB 1263, it appears that the usage of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo has not been resolved between the institution and the state’s executive and legislative branches The difference of opinion seems to tracend the nickname/logo issue to the fundamental matters of governmental operation and authority. The NCAA has no role in that discussion among state and university leaders scheduled for April 22 and so the NCAA believes it is appropriate to decline your invitation to attend that meeting.
The NCAA and the University of North Dakota have agreed to the parameters of the NCAA’s Native Americn mascot policy and we remain ready to assist the institution in it’s implementation.
Bernard W. Franklin
Executive Vice President for Membership and Student-Athlete Affairs/Chief Inclusion Officer”
All I can say, is what a tool. And what an icky, little insight into how bureaucrats like Franklin work.
It wasn’t what Carlson and his fellow lawmakers were expecting.
“We got the impression that they were willing to look at new ideas,” Carlson said. “We thought they were coming here to discuss some options, and hopefully those are still available, and we can get down and talk to them about it.”
At a time when the NCAA has larger things on its plate, such as the case of an athlete like the morally-suspect Newton and closing up the loopholes in the NCAA manual he exposed, this organization shouldn’t be worried about small potatoes like North Dakota’s nickname.
Newton should have been booted out of Auburn in a heartbeat, instead of winning a Heisman Trophy and a BCS championship. But a bureaucrat like Franklin would rather be the bully of the block against little, old North Dakota.
Some things never seem to change.