NCAA bans Mississippi teams from hosting postseason events

Published 2:58 pm Friday, June 19, 2020

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA on Friday expanded its policy banning states with prominent Confederate symbols from hosting its sponsored events, one day after the Southeastern Conference made a similar declaration aimed at the Mississippi state flag.

The current NCAA ban, in place since 2001, prevents states from hosting what the NCAA calls predetermined sites, such as for men’s basketball tournament games. Mississippi is the only state currently affected by the policy.

The expanded policy means that even when sites of NCAA events are determined by performance, as they are in sports such as baseball, women’s basketball and softball, Mississippi schools will not be permitted to host.

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Mississippi’s two Southeastern Conference schools, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, regularly host NCAA baseball regional and super regional games. Southern Miss and Delta State have also hosted regionals in recent years. Mississippi State’s women’s basketball team has also been a frequent host of first- and second-round games in the NCAA Tournament.

“Competing in an NCAA championship is a special experience for college athletes who compete at the highest level and we are grateful for the college athlete voice leading to this decision,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement. “We must do all we can to ensure that NCAA actions reflect our commitment to inclusion and support all our student-athletes. There can be no place within college sports where any student-athlete is demeaned or unwelcome.”

Mississippi has the last state flag that includes the battle emblem: a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars. White supremacists put the symbol on the flag in 1894 during the backlash to black political power that developed during Reconstruction.

On Thursday, the SEC announced it would no longer hold conference-sponsored championship events in Mississippi until the state flag is changed. The move came with calls for change from administrators at both Ole Miss and Mississippi State, but lacked real consequences. None of the SEC’s high-profile events are held in Mississippi.

“It is past time for change to be made to the flag of the State of Mississippi,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in his statement. “Our students deserve an opportunity to learn and compete in environments that are inclusive and welcoming to all. In the event there is no change, there will be consideration of precluding Southeastern Conference championship events from being conducted in the State of Mississippi until the flag is changed.”

The SEC’s football championship game and baseball tournament are committed to Atlanta and Hoover, Ala., for the foreseeable future. The league has a contract to hold either its men’s or women’s basketball tournament in Nashville through 2035, and contracts with other cities for other years. The men’s tournament will be in Tampa, Florida, in 2022, and in Nashville in 2021, 2023, 2024 and 2025.

Championship events in other sports such as track, softball and tennis normally rotate among campus sites. The next SEC championship event scheduled to be in Mississippi is in 2022, when Ole Miss would host the outdoor track and field championships in the spring and the cross country championships in the fall.

But Mississippi has consistently fielded highly ranked baseball teams at several schools, and Mississippi State’s women’s basketball team has hosted NCAA tournament games four times since 2010.

On Friday afternoon, Mississippi State baseball head coach Chris Lemonis issued a statement in support of changing the state flag.

“Our focus as educators, community leaders, husbands and fathers is always to provide perspective. As coaches, we must seeall sides of an issue or outcome to help our student-athletes make informed decisions. The rulings of the SEC and NCAA affect our kids and community greatly, but we understand their intent. My job as a head coach is to unite our players in a common goal, and a change to our state flag is needed to unite Mississippi.”

Mississippi is home to four other Division I schools: Southern Miss, which competes in Conference USA, and Alcorn State, Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State, historically black universities in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The state also has two Division II schools in Delta State and Mississippi College and three D-III’s in Belaven University, Millsaps College and Mississippi University for Women.

Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum released a statement after Sankey’s comments on Thursday. He noted that the university — along with most other state universities — have not flown the state flag on campus, and leaders have called for changing the flag.

“Clearly, the current national climate is such that this debate may produce unintended consequences for our student athletes here at Mississippi State University and those at the University of Mississippi,” Keenum said. “In addition, there may be similar unintended consequences for academic pursuits at our all our state’s public universities and negative economic impacts on the state’s communities as well.

“Since 2015, our Student Association, Robert Holland Faculty Senate and university administration have been firmly on record in support of changing the state flag. I have reiterated that view to our state’s leaders on multiple occasions, including during face-to-face discussions in recent days and hours. On June 12, I wrote to the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the Mississippi House reaffirming that support. The letter said, in part, that our flag should be unifying, not a symbol that divides us. I emphasized that it is time for a renewed, respectful debate on this issue.”

A joint statement by Ole Miss athletics director Keith Carter and Chancellor Glenn Boyce on Thursday echoed Sankey’s sentiments. The state flag has not flown on the Ole Miss campus since 2015.

“The University of Mississippi community concluded years ago that the Confederate battle flag did not represent many of our core values, such as civility and respect for others,” the Ole Miss statement read. “In 2015, the university stopped flying the state flag over our campus. Mississippi needs a flag that represents the qualities about our state that unite us, not those that still divide us. We support the SEC’s position for changing the Mississippi state flag to an image that is more welcoming and inclusive for all people.”

The SEC was not the only conference to cause issues with Mississippi hosting championships due to the flag.

Conference USA commissioner Judy MacLeod also issued a statement on Thursday stating the conference’s Board of Directors pledged to “conduct a process to review” their championship policies to ensure their student-athletes are in environments that align with the conference’s mission to support and protect them.

Biloxi, Pearl and Hattiesburg have all hosted Conference USA’s baseball tournament in the past 10 years. Southern Miss is scheduled to host it again in 2022.