BISMARCK, N.D. — University of North Dakota teams risk forfeiting any post-season games if their athletes, cheerleaders or band wear or display the school's Fighting Sioux nickname and American Indian head logo, an NCAA official said Wednesday.
Bernard Franklin, an NCAA executive vice president, said in a letter to university provost Paul 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's letter says.
The NCAA has long said the nickname and logo are hostile to American Indians and that the Grand Forks school's teams may not wear uniforms that have the nickname or logo during post-season contests. But the Franklin letter's mention of forfeiting games is a new development.
The university's women's hockey team, which is ranked fifth in the nation, may be the first affected by the sanctions. The team still could win a high enough seed to host the first round of the NCAA's post-season tournament, but the nickname penalty will bar the team from doing so in any case.
"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," coach Brian Idalski said at a news conference in Grand Forks.
Brian Faison, the university's athletic director, said the letter should help convince skeptics of the reality of NCAA sanctions.
""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."
The nickname and logo, and the NCAA's attitudes toward them, have been the focus of an intense political and legal debate in North Dakota.
In March 2011, the North Dakota Legislature approved a law that required the university to use the logo and the Fighting Sioux nickname, which it has had for decades, despite the threat of NCAA sanctions.
When the NCAA declined to exempt UND from its policy discouraging schools' use of American Indian nicknames and logos that it considers offensive, the Legislature repealed the pro-nickname law last November. Nickname backers responded by filing referendum petitions that demand a June statewide vote on whether UND should be forced to keep the nickname and logo.
The Board of Higher Education, which supports dropping the nickname and logo, responded by filing a lawsuit against Secretary of State Al Jaeger in a bid to keep the measure off the ballot. The North Dakota Supreme Court is considering a request to hear the case without first assigning it to a lower court for review.
Franklin's letter says if UND's use of the nickname and logo forces the school to forfeit games, the NCAA may demand that the university reimburse it for its travel and meal costs in connection with the championship.
"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 said in the letter.