BISMARCK, North Dakota Jumping into a dispute over college sports mascots that some Native American groups consider offensive, North Dakota lawmakers on Friday passed a bill requiring the University of North Dakota to keep its "Fighting Sioux" nickname and Indian head logo.
Governor Jack Dalrymple said he intended to sign the bill, bringing the state into potential conflict with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which governs collegiate sports.
The NCAA adopted a policy six years ago to bar schools that use Native American nicknames, mascots or logos from hosting championship events or wearing uniforms with those images during NCAA playoffs.
The NCAA left open exceptions for schools that received approval from "namesake tribes" to use the images. After multiple lawsuits, the NCAA reached a settlement with North Dakota that gave the university three years to obtain permission.
North Dakota, which is fiercely proud of its "Fighting Sioux" moniker and has the nation's top ranked men's college ice hockey team this year, received approval from only one of the two "namesake tribes." The university made plans to shift to a new nickname and logo.
Several lawmakers objected to the forced changes. The North Dakota Senate approved the bill 28 to 15 on Friday. State representatives approved it by a wider margin in February.
"They would like the matter to move forward to a definitive determination of whether the logo must go," Dalrymple said.
The bill bars the university or the North Dakota Board of Higher Education from taking action to discontinue use of the nickname or logo. It also requires the state attorney general to consider antitrust claims if the NCAA penalizes the university over the nickname or logo.
The bill was approved over the objections of the state board of higher education.
Native American mascots are widely used in U.S. sports, sparking controversy at several universities. The Florida State University Seminoles received approval from their namesake tribe. A mascot dressed in Indian headress continues to ride horseback at football games and fans wave their arms in a tomahawk chop motion.
Under pressure from the NCAA, the University of Illinois retired its Chief Illiniwek mascot, which featured a tradition of an Indian chief mascot dancing on the field during every home football game.
(Reporting by David Bailey and David Thompson, Editing by Greg McCune)