August 07, 2015

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) South Carolina is back in the game to host predetermined NCAA championships now that the Confederate flag has been lowered from the Statehouse grounds.

A group of top tourism leaders visited Indianapolis this week to let the association know that the state is ready and willing to bid on and host such events following the NCAA ban that had been in effect almost 15 years.

Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Duane Parrish visited NCAA headquarters on Wednesday with members of the South Carolina Sports Alliance, a group working to promote sports tourism.

Parrish said they discussed the state's athletic facilities and bidding for future events with 30 NCAA officials who handle championships.

He told The Associated Press on Friday the state might have a step up on hosting events such as basketball tournament games because it's been so long since South Carolina has done so.

''If everything else is equal in terms of the bid package because we are new and people haven't been here in a long time I think that gives us an edge,'' he said. ''It may not be on paper but I think that gives us a psychological edge.''

Lawmakers voted to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds after the shooting deaths of nine black parishioners at a Charleston church in June. The white gunman charged with numerous counts including murder and hate crimes had posed with Confederate flags.

The flag was removed July 10 and, the same day, the NCAA dropped its ban that went into effect in 2001. Mark Emmer, the president of the NCAA said lowering the flag ''sends an important message of respect for and dignity of every person.''

The AP left messages with the NCAA inquiring about the meeting with the tourism representatives.

Attracting NCAA men's basketball regionals is highly competitive and the events can mean millions of dollars for host communities. There are arenas in Columbia, Greenville and Charleston large enough to host NCAA tournament games.

Athletics spokesman Joe Galbraith said Clemson officials have had preliminary discussions with tourism officials in Greenville about hosting a regional event. And the University of South Carolina has spoken about with Columbia-area tourism leaders about the possibility of hosting at Colonial Life Area, said Athletics Department spokesman Charles Bloom.

The last time a men's NCAA basketball regional was held in South Carolina was in 2002 at what is now the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville. During that event, a crowd of about 125 protesters from the NAACP marched outside the area calling for removal of the Statehouse flag even as about 20 flag supporters demonstrated across the street.

The tournament had been awarded to Greenville before the NCAA ban and the group's executive committee decided it could remain there.


Associated Press Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli contributed to this story from Columbia, S.C.

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