Of the many mystifying decisions handed down by the NCAA, the curious case of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname is right up there with the former prohibitions on cream-cheesed bagels. In 2005, the NCAA told schools with tribal nicknames and logos that they had to get rid of them or face sanctions, and after some push-back from the state of North Dakota, the school reached a settlement in which it agreed to change its nickname, eventually settling on the Fighting Hawks.
But here’s where it gets weird: As part of the agreement, North Dakota agreed to hold on to the Fighting Sioux trademark. But to actually do that, it needs to periodically sell merchandise with the Fighting Sioux name and logo on it.
So that’s why the school found itself selling merch with the NCAA-prohibited nickname and logo on it last week. According to the Associated Press, it all sold out within hours.
According to interim UND president Ed Schafer, the school doesn’t want to let the trademark lapse, therefore allowing someone to swoop in and flood the market with Fighting Sioux stuff.
“You have to be able to prove that you’ve used that trademark in order to keep it,” Schafer said. “You have to use it the same way that you have been using it.”
Among the 9,000 items sold by stores that were licensed by the school: more than 1,000 sweatshirts, 3,000 hats and 300 lanyards. There will be another sale later this year.
— Kris Kerzman (@kriskerzman) February 19, 2016
One would think North Dakota — if it really wanted to keep the nickname buried — would simply gin up a few T-shirts or keychains and keep them buried in a vault somewhere, but nope, they have to go all out to keep the trademark.
“Usage isn’t defined by the law, but we’ve been advised by counsel that we need to be able to defend ourselves in court,” UND spokesman Peter Johnson told Inforum’s Mike McFeely. “If somebody comes at us and says we’re not meeting the trademark requirement, we have to be able to show that we are. We don’t know what the number is that will allow us to do that, but it’s not one.
“You have to demonstrate a good faith effort to use it in a commercial way.”
Possibly related: There’s a metric ton of Fighting Sioux stuff on eBay right now, including a hockey sweater that costs more than some used cars.