Back in June, I wrote that the NCAA was coming down harshly on the University of North Dakota for its “offensive” mascot simply because the NCAA was too afraid to go after the more powerful member institutions and too weak to actually enforce its own rule.
Since then, laws have been passed in North Dakota that ban the university from dropping the nickname and also to allow the university to drop the nickname (you read that correctly). Petitions have also been filed recently to force the issue onto the ballot this fall, meaning the school is still using the “Fighting Sioux” nickname until further notice.
So yeah, things have gotten a little out of hand.
Rest assured that the mascot will probably be dropped at some point this summer if the members of the Big Sky Conference (which UND is joining July 1) decide to threaten to withdraw UND’s invitation to join the conference. If there is one thing colleges reliably do, it’s protect their income at all costs. Also, who knew there was any money involved in the Big Sky conference?
Also, keep in mind this only affects UND because they do not play football in Division I-A (they’re moving up to 1-AA with the rest of the Big Sky) and the Standing Rock tribe stated they do not support the school’s use of the name. And for a minute there, the school actually complied with the rule and got rid of all Sioux-related things from their school and athletic department, at a cost estimated to be $750,000. This article even says the school can’t pick a new mascot until 2015, which makes perfect sense.
My argument was that the NCAA is only picking on UND because it can’t enforce this policy in all situations. They were never serious about making Florida State or other powerful institutions with Native American mascots get rid of them because they have no power over the big football schools. FSU can tell the NCAA to f**k itself if it wants because its biggest revenue stream (football) is outside the control of the NCAA. UND can’t.
Moreover, the NCAA only cares about certain nicknames: those that don’t receive the endorsement of the local indigenous population. Florida State was allowed to have the Seminole tribe “endorse” FSU’s use of the Seminole as its mascot. One wonders how that deal was made.
The Standing Rock Sioux didn’t give UND permission, and therefore the university is screwed.
Yet the NCAA has still never articulated what makes the Seminole not offensive and the Fighting Sioux offensive. They don’t actually differentiate; they let the schools get “endorsements” or whatever you want to call them. The presence of Native American imagery is not automatically offensive any more than the Notre Dame Fighting Irish nickname and mascot is offensive on its face.
But I’m not here to argue that the use of “Fighting Sioux” isn’t offensive. If people, especially the Sioux, don’t like it, then it’s in everyone’s best interest to change the mascot. We can all admit that many sports mascots were created at a time when racial sensitivity wasn’t at an all-time high. Cough. Notre Dame. Cough.
The selective enforcement of this rule is the problem here. If the NCAA were serious about this, they would have created harsher penalties for noncompliance than being unable to host regionals or whatever. They also would have forced all member institutions to comply or else. Further, they would have laid out criteria for WHY these logos are offensive. It isn’t self-evident to everyone, as shown by all the people in North Dakota collecting signatures to keep the Fighting Sioux mascot. The biggest problem with political correctness is the inability of its foremost proponents to talk about the issues without being condescending or assuming everyone just understands them.
But this is, again, where Division I-A football money is the biggest problem in all of college sports. The NCAA, should they ever choose to enforce this rule wholesale, would have to have all member institutions under its control. The only way to get the FBS under its thumb is to create an NCAA football championship. That, however, would cause the bowls and major football schools to revolt and create their own system totally outside of NCAA purview. This is the nightmare scenario for the NCAA, and it’s the reason why no one from their offices tried to enforce the rule.