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In one day, UND gets thousands of new nickname ideas

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. – In about one day, thousands of people had already submitted their suggestion of what they think UND's permanent nickname should be.

The system limits the number of ideas a person can submit to two but does not stop them from reopening the survey page and submitting more ideas, which university spokesman Peter Johnson said was intentional.

"The more nickname suggestions, the better," he said.

In the first 24 hours of the poll opening 8 a.m. Wednesday, Johnson said about 3,000 nickname suggestions have been entered.

But committee chairman and UND alumnus Karl Goehring wasn't on the same page, saying he didn't realize that was going to be the case and the committee hadn't discussed it but "at the end of the day, getting people to get involved is the biggest thing."

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Submissions are being accepted through April 30 to find a permanent nickname for UND after its former Fighting Sioux name was retired.

The 25-character entries are anonymous and can be accompanied by a short description of why that idea should be chosen.

Print submissions are also being accepted through a form that will be published in newspapers across the state starting Saturday and that method only allows for one idea submission per person.

Originally, the committee was aiming to hold a public vote in "early May," but by the second meeting the plan had changed to "mid- to late-May."

Even though there are already thousands of name ideas, Goehring said he expected even more after serving on the school's previous nickname task force.

"I guess I'm not surprised," he said. "Just going through meeting with alumni and stakeholder groups, there was so much interest in it."

A long journey

The road to a permanent nickname has been a long one at UND and this isn't the first time deadlines have been altered.

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The Fighting Sioux monicker was adopted in the 1930s and drew controversy over the decades until August 2005 when the NCAA deemed the name "hostile and abusive" and threatened sanctions.

After a long legal battle, the NCAA refused to back down and the name was retired in December 2012. Around the time a legislatively mandated moratorium that kept the school from picking a new logo expired almost two years later, President Robert Kelley appointed a task force that spent about four months gathering feedback from the public.

That task force originally aimed to complete their work in December 2014 but pushed the deadline and published a report a month later. The task force recommended a group of stakeholders be appointed to gather more public input before vetting and narrowing down the list of ideas to a certain few.

The 11-person committee, which began its work March 10, has deviated from the task force's plan by allowing the final name to be chosen by public vote, instead of the committee itself after a series of public votes.

But exactly how the process will work is unclear. The committee consisting of various stakeholders including alumni, university employees and students, decided on a series of attributes that will be used to judge the name ideas, but not whether they'll be weighted a certain way.

Goehring said regardless of the looming deadline for a public vote, the important thing is being thorough and finding a good name to represent the university and its athletic programs.

"The focus will be on doing the best we can with it and certainly if we need more time I think we'll ask for it," he said.

It's also still unknown how the public vote will work, as the task force didn't specify the list be narrowed down to a certain number in the plan but Kelley requested three. Kelley has also said the "public" that votes on the names should be as inclusive as possible but the committee does have the power to disagree and push for different standards.

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Fans divided

Both Kelley and the members of the nickname task force made it clear in December that going back to using the Fighting Sioux name isn't going to happen, even though it is still prevalent at hockey games and throughout Grand Forks.

"We can certainly break the rules and go our own way, but we will no longer be part of the NCAA and that isn't fair to our student athletes or our athletic programs," Kelley told the Herald four months ago. "We would have to be independent, and in my judgement, that isn't the best position for the University of North Dakota."

People have also reached out to the Grand Forks Herald and to Kelley to voice their undying love for the old mascot.

"I'm confident I can speak for a vast number of current students, alumni, and fans that we are not interested in being force-fed a new nickname in short order; quite frankly I think this will accomplish exactly the opposite of encouraging people to move past our Sioux name and embrace something different," UND alumnus Todd Borchardt said in March 28 email to Kelley, obtained by the Herald via open records request.

But some have pushed for the school to continue simply playing as "UND/North Dakota" as it has since the Fighting Sioux logo was retired.

"If UND cannot be the beloved Fighting Sioux it should remain the University of North Dakota, because that's what we are," North Dakota resident Adam Thompson said in a March 23 email to Kelley, also obtained by the Herald.

The nickname task force recommended that option be included in the list the committee considers and Goehring said Kelley told the group he's on board with that plan.

The date of the next committee meeting, which is open to the public, hasn't been announced yet but Johnson, the university spokesman, said it will be up to the committee to make decisions on the unanswered questions, including what to do with the unsolicited name ideas the university has catalogued over the years.

"I think they're looking for the best suggestions they can get and want to give everybody who wants to provide suggestions that opportunity," Johnson said.

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