Judge delays ruling on antitrust claim in Sioux nickname case 6-8-07

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) - A judge has delayed ruling on an NCAA motion to dismiss the University of North Dakota's antitrust claim in the legal battle over the school's Fighting Sioux nickname.

Northeast Central District Judge Lawrence Jahnke said he will not rule until after Sept. 7, the deadline for attorneys in the case to exchange information in the matter.

“This deferral should not ... be construed by either party as an indication by the trial court that it feels the antitrust claim does or does not have merit,” Jahnke said in the ruling e-mailed to attorneys on both sides. “However, the court feels that the NCAA's motion for a dismissal of that particular claim is a bit premature.”

UND is suing the NCAA over its policy barring schools from displaying what it terms “hostile and abusive” American Indian imagery during postseason play. The case is scheduled for trial in Grand Forks in December.

UND's antitrust argument states that the NCAA unfairly restrained trade in North Dakota, damaged competition and organized a group boycott when it imposed the nickname sanctions.

The NCAA, in its motion to dismiss the antitrust claim, argued its policy does not restrict competition at large but only puts UND at a competitive disadvantage.

“Antitrust law does not guarantee equal competitive results in the marketplace any more than the results of competition on the athletic field,” the motion said. “There will always be winners and losers.”

The NCAA motion also argues that the commercial effects of the association's policies are spread across the country, so any judgment regulating NCAA business practices should be made under federal law, not by a Grand Forks court.

Tag Anderson, an assistant state attorney general, said “Judge Jahnke agreed with our position that it would be inappropriate to rule (on the antitrust claim) without at least the opportunity for discovery. At the close of discovery, we'll know whether it's a viable claim or not.”

Jahnke approved a preliminary injunction last November allowing UND to retain its nickname and Indian head logo without consequences until the case reaches trial. At that time, the judge said UND did not have a “substantial likelihood” of proving its antitrust argument.