The NCAA Empire Strikes Back At North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux Nickname

Empire Strikes BackBy David Coulson

Executive Editor

College Sports Journal


PHILADELPHIA, PA. — In the debate about political correctness, some people will never have a clue.


As I am learning, one of the biggest Neanderthals on this subject is one Bernard Franklin, a vice president with the NCAA.


Now this isn’t the first time I have taken Mr. Franklin to task and, if past behavior is any indication of future actions, there isn’t much hope that we will see this out-of-touch bureaucrat, or the institution he works for, comes to their senses any time soon.


About a year ago, I penned one of the most popular columns in the decade-long history of the College Sporting News, a publication I helped build from the ground floor.



It was titled “NCAA Misses The Whole Aircraft Carrier on North Dakota Nickname Issue” and documented the draconian efforts on the part of Franklin and the NCAA to harass yet another school on an issue that pales in comparison to the true problems that face college athletics.


In keeping with the classic series of archives that we are gradually making available at College Sports Journal, we will republish the original column in conjunction with this update on the subject.


But the actions and statements of Franklin this week cannot slide by without some updated comments and the argument that was presented in the original column is still appropriate for today.


In the past year, since I wrote my original commentary, we have seen the Jim Tressel scandal come to a conclusion at Ohio State and the Jerry Sandusky debacle bring down Joe Paterno and the mighty Penn State football program.


Earlier this week, we were given an inside look at the latest troubles for the iconic UCLA men’s basketball program.


What about all of the turmoil in college football, with universities jumping from conference to conferences and destroying many of the traditional rivalries that have built the game, just to make a few more bucks?


But still, people like Franklin and his organization, the NCAA, are endeavoring to major in the minors.


Do we really need to make a big deal over the fact that the University of North Dakota has the nickname “Fighting Sioux” at a time when there are so many serious problems at the feet of the NCAA?


Franklin crawled out of his hole of his office in Indianapolis this week to announce to North Dakota that it still needs to come into compliance with NCAA policy on what it calls “hostile” nicknames and logos.


Of course, the NCAA still allows Florida State to call itself the Seminoles, Utah to proclaim itself as the Utes and Illinois to parade around the Illini moniker. But little North Dakota can be made a punching bag, because the Fighting Sioux just barely made the leap into the limelight as a Division I program.


Just call this hypocrite of all hypocrites the “bully on the block” (deference to Bob Dylan’s 1980s tune, filled with its symbolic, political imagery).


Franklin sent a letter to UND provost Paul LeBel recently, telling LeBel that the university “must forfeit competition” if “it has not adhered to this requirement” in any post-season games that UND teams have been invited to play in.


“We ask that the university take measures to minimize or eliminate the presence of the imagery or nickname brought to an NCAA championship venue,” Franklin wrote.


In other words, Franklin and the NCAA are ratcheting up the pressure and the proverbial arm-twisting to newer and more ridiculous heights by saying North Dakota’s teams might have to forfeit NCAA playoff contests if they don’t change their nickname.


North Dakota Football HelmetLast year, this tool had the audacity to challenge the university and duck a public meeting when the North Dakota legislature had passed a law requiring that UND keep its historic nickname.


I guess the NCAA still thinks it is above the law, even though the courts have consistently hammered the organization for over-stepping its bounds so often in the past.


The law was repealed in November — in large part because of the pressure of the NCAA — but that doesn’t change the fact that the NCAA had no right getting involved in a matter of state politics.


You have to wonder if Franklin’s diatribe wasn’t stirred to additional heights by the fact that the North Dakota men’s hockey team was shown with its Fighting Sioux logo on CBS College Sports during a game with the University of Denver late last month?


North Dakota’s Football Championship Subdivision team has yet to be hampered by this idiotic thought control, straight out of a George Orwell novel. But the women’s ice hockey team, ranked fifth in the country, is already in Franklin’s crosshairs.


That kind of season should enable UND to host the first round of the NCAA Women’s  Ice Hockey Championships, but the sanction currently on the books against the Fighting Sioux would prohibit that.


“You ask them to … work hard, and (they’ve) had a great season, and then be told, ‘Hey, regardless of what you do, you’re going on the road.’ That kind of stinks,” UND coach Brian Idalski remarked at a news conference in Grand Forks, N.D. this week.


Brian Faison, the Fighting Sioux athletic director, seemed resigned to the inevitable.


“We knew going in that this was a possibility, but it’s in black and white now,” Faison said. “It’s very clear what will happen.”


North Dakota Men's HockeyThe North Dakota Board of Higher Education has come out in favor of dropping the nickname and filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Al Jaeger to keep a referendum off the North Dakota ballot that would ask voters in the state to decide whether UND should keep its nickname.


The North Dakota Supreme Court is considering a request to hear the case immediately, without assigning it to a lower court for initial review.


Faison said that he is afraid that the NCAA might demand UND reimburse it for travel and meal costs from the NCAA Women’s Ice Hockey Championships, something that Franklin threatened in his scathing letter.


“It is the spirit of the NCAA’s championship policy that the competing student-athletes (both North Dakota and its opponents) not be distracted or disrupted during the championship by debates about when and where your institution’s Native American imagery or nickname may be displayed or worn,” Franklin wrote.


North Dakota has also felt the pressure of fellow schools from the Big Sky Conference, which the school is set to join in the fall of 2012.


Presidents from other Big Sky institutions brought the subject to the forefront in recent conference calls and there have been hints that the issue could cost UND its membership in the league.


North Dakota finds itself increasingly on a ethical island.


At a time when the Big Sky Conference could show some concern for the First Amendment issues at the heart of the political correctness idiocy, both the conference office, led by commissioner Doug Fullerton, and the other schools have sided with the NCAA.


Unfortunately, many of the universities of this country are the ones that are the biggest proponents of the political correctness movement.


That makes me feel increasingly like a dinosaur.


When I received my education as a journalism major at Fresno State, students were just a decade removed from the Vietnam protest era of 1960s and independent thinking was worn like a medal of honor by professors and students alike.


Political correctness, however, teaches us that everyone must think, or at least act, in the same way, creating an insipid philosophy that erodes some of the pillars our American society has been founded on.


It also creates ridiculous standards where it is perfectly fine to call yourself the Fighting Irish, like Notre Dame does, but it is somehow wrong to wear the Fighting Sioux moniker.


For the record, as a man with Scotch, Irish, Welsh and German, as well as some Cherokee blood flowing through my veins, I don’t have a problem with the Fighting Irish, or the Fighting Sioux, particularly when one of the Sioux tribes in North Dakota has given UND its support.


But I deplore hypocrisy and inconsistency and that is what North Dakota is receiving in huge doses from Franklin and the NCAA.


The bully on the block may ultimately win this nickname battle, but it doesn’t change the fact that everyone will still know that he is indeed a bully. And it doesn’t make the NCAA’s policy right.


Are you listening, Mr. Franklin?