NCAA waiting on flag decision before lifting ban

Due to the NCAA's policy on the Confederate flag, South Carolina has not hosted the NCAA men's basketball tournament since the first and second rounds were held in Greenville in 2002. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Just like everyone else, the NCAA is watching and waiting to see if the Confederate flag comes down.

Until that happens, the organization’s policy banning predetermined championship events in the Palmetto State remains intact, a spokesperson said Tuesday. “The policy is still in place since there has been no change with regard to the issue,” said Meghan Durham, the NCAA’s assistant director of public and media relations.

The flag’s presence has long been problematic for South Carolina college teams, and the compromise that moved it from the capitol dome to the Confederate soldiers monument on the Statehouse grounds didn’t help. The NCAA’s policy banning predetermined events like the men’s basketball tournament has been in place since April of 2001 — one year after the flag was relocated.

In 2004, that moratorium was expanded to include any potential bowl games within South Carolina, which the NCAA’s Executive Committee directed its Football Certification Subcommittee to reject. In 2007, the NCAA’s Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee recommended the ban remain in place until the flag was removed from the statehouse grounds.

Gov. Nikki Haley urged just that Monday, in reaction to last week’s shooting of nine churchgoers at Emanuel AME in Charleston. Dylann Roof, a 21-year old resident of the Columbia area who has shown interest in racial segregation and the Confederacy, has been charged with the murders.

The stigma of the Confederate flag has not spared athletics. Although the NCAA ban didn’t impact postseason events decided on merit — such as baseball, where USC and Clemson have regularly played on their home fields — the men’s basketball tournament has been absent from the state since the first and second rounds were contested in Greenville in 2002, which was scheduled before the ban went into effect.

Columbia’s 18,000-seat Colonial Life Arena, opened in 2002 and built with NCAA hosting in mind, has never welcomed the men’s tournament. It didn’t host the women’s tournament until last season, and only then because the format was changed. The previous two years, Dawn Staley’s nationally ranked USC team was forced to play away from home due to the NCAA ban.

South Carolina’s many famed golf courses have been unable to host NCAA regionals, and the ACC followed the NCAA’s lead by moving its baseball tournament out of Myrtle Beach. Many Palmetto State coaches have long objected to the flag, going back more than a decade. Former USC coaches Lou Holtz and Eddie Fogler and former Clemson coaches Tommy Bowden and Larry Shyatt were among those who took part in a 2000 march in opposition to the flag’s presence on the dome.

Current USC football coach Steve Spurrier, long an advocate of removing the flag from the Statehouse grounds, voiced his most strident opposition after an ESPN “GameDay” broadcast from South Carolina was marred “by some clown … waving that dang, damn Confederate flag,” he said during a 2007 awards banquet in a video obtained by The Associated Press.

“I realize I’m not supposed to get in the political arena as a football coach, but if anybody were ever to ask me about that damn Confederate flag, I would say we need to get rid of it,” he added. “I’ve been told not to talk about that. But if anyone were ever to ask me about it, I certainly wish we could get rid of it.”

Spurrier reiterated those feelings Tuesday via Twitter (@SC_HBC), “The South Carolina football team, players and coaches strongly support Governor Haley’s decision to remove the flag from the capitol,” he wrote.

Monday, he was joined by a chorus of similar voices including those of Staley, USC men’s basketball coach Frank Martin, South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner, Clemson AD Dan Radakovich and Tigers football coach Dabo Swinney. Until it comes down, the NCAA’s ban remains in place. And everyone watches and waits.