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Legal action considered at UND

The state should use private donations instead of taxpayer dollars if the University of North Dakota decides to challenge a NCAA ruling against its Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, the state attorney general said.

Ralph Engelstad Arena

The state should use private donations instead of taxpayer dollars if the University of North Dakota decides to challenge a NCAA ruling against its Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, the state attorney general said.

In the next few weeks, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem plans to meet with UND President Charles Kupchella and possibly Chancellor Robert Potts to discuss potential legal action against the NCAA.

The athletic organization denied UND's final appeal last week to keep its school nickname and logo, ruling the Fighting Sioux name and imagery creates hostile or abusive environments.

The school was given a transition period until 2007-08 to make needed changes.

The NCAA policy does not mandate that a university discontinue the use of its mascots, nicknames or imagery on campus.


However, the school will only be invited to participate in NCAA postseason events if it elects to do so without American Indian references on their uniforms and associated athletic program activities. It also means the university won't be allowed to host NCAA postseason events.

Kupchella said he has not decided if UND should pursue a lawsuit. First UND officials want to get more clarification from the NCAA as to how it arrived at its decision, Kupchella said.

"Then given what they finally end up with, we will examine the case we'd actually have before going to the next step," Kupchella said.

Stenehjem said he will outline possible legal grounds for a lawsuit and let school officials decide whether to proceed. The meeting will also include discussions about who would pay for the potential legal action.

Stenehjem doesn't anticipate a drawn-out trial and said it isn't "a horribly expensive process." A lawsuit would "by far" be less than $1 million, he said.

However, he doesn't think state taxpayers or students should have to bear the cost.

"Any lawsuit should be funded by voluntary contributions, and we should find a way to make that happen, if there's a lawsuit at all," Stenehjem said.

Kupchella issued a statement after the April 28 ruling, saying the NCAA policy is "illegitimate" and has been applied to UND "inappropriately and in an arbitrary and capricious manner."


He said the next step was to consider legal and other options with the state Board of Higher Education and Stenehjem.

UND attorney Julie Evans declined to comment on the issue.

NCAA President Myles Brand has said the organization feels confident in its position and will defend it to the utmost.

Board opinions

If UND doesn't proceed with a lawsuit, it has the options of changing the school's nickname and logo or using a different nickname and logo when participating in NCAA tournaments.

Asked if the university had a budget prepared to cover the cost of a transition to a new nickname and logo, UND spokesman Peter Johnson said there wasn't one to his knowledge.

UND Budget Office Director Alice Brekke declined to expand further.

If the school decides to file a lawsuit, UND will need to bring the recommendation to the state Board of Higher Education, according to a resolution the board approved in November.


Board members varied in their responses when asked this week if they would support a lawsuit.

Board President Pam Kostelecky of Dickinson didn't offer an opinion, saying the first step is for Kupchella and UND officials to determine what course of action to take.

They then need to share their decision with Potts, who will bring it to the board, she said.

Debra Anderson, a spokeswoman for Potts, referred inquiries on the topic to Kostelecky.

Kupchella has not given the board any indication of what he's planning, Kostelecky said earlier this week. The board also hasn't considered how a potential lawsuit would be funded, she said.

"Those are details, truthfully, we haven't explored. It would have been premature to do that," Kostelecky said.

Board members Richard Kunkel of Devils Lake and Bruce Christianson of Minot said they would support legal action against the NCAA.

"I would certainly be in favor of it because I'm not happy with the NCAA ruling," Kunkel said.


"I'm disappointed in the NCAA appeal," Christianson said. "I am in support of taking the next step, and that is to take it to the status of a lawsuit."

Other board members took a more cautious approach on the issue.

Board member Sue Andrews of Mapleton said she would need to see more information before making a decision.

Board faculty adviser John Pederson of Mayville declined to give an opinion, saying he hopes to first get further direction from the Council of College Faculties - the statewide group he represents - next week.

Board member and UND student Patricia Olson said it's hard for her to keep her student perspective on the issue separate from her board perspective.

"I think it's really up to the university," she said. "Whatever President Kupchella decides, as a student I support him. As a board member, I just leave it in his hands to do the right thing ... what he thinks is best for the college."

Richie Smith of Wahpeton and John Q. Paulsen of Fargo said they're waiting to see what UND does next. Bev Clayburgh of Grand Forks did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Engelstad's role


Meanwhile, the Engelstad family and Ralph Engelstad Arena remain steadfast in their support of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, said spokesman Chris Semrau. The privately-operated arena has about 3,000 Sioux logos.

The NCAA's decision not to allow championship events in facilities with American Indian mascots, names and imagery doesn't affect the arena as badly as people might think, Semrau said.

Basketball would be affected the most, with the arena no longer eligible to host women's and men's regional championships, he said.

As for hockey, it could be several years or never before Grand Forks was considered for another West Regional tournament, depending on where the NCAA goes with the future of site selection, Semrau said. The NCAA is talking about using neutral sites for national tournaments, he said.

Arena officials haven't met to discuss how much time, energy or money it would take to alter the arena, he said.

"We don't plan on changing any of the logos at any time," Semrau said.

Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple contributed to this report

Readers can reach Forum reporter Teri Finneman at (701) 241-5560

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