NCAA baseball regionals and more will no longer be allowed in the state of Mississippi unless the state flag containing the confederate battle emblem – seen as a racist symbol by many – is changed. The ruling was announced on Friday. Here is the full announcement from the NCAA:
The NCAA Board of Governors has expanded the Association’s Confederate flag policy to prevent any NCAA championship events from being played in states where the symbol has a prominent presence.
The policy previously barred the awarding of sites determined in advance of a championship in states that displayed the Confederate flag. However, if a college or university team earned the right to host a championship game based on its tournament seeding or ranking -- considered a nonpredetermined award -- the team could host on its college campus or in its home territory.
Mississippi is the only state currently affected by the Association’s policy.
“There is no place in college athletics or the world for symbols or acts of discrimination and oppression,” said Michael V. Drake, chair of the board and president of the Ohio State University. “We must continually evaluate ways to protect and enhance the championship experience for college athletes. Expanding the Confederate flag policy to all championships is an important step by the NCAA to further provide a quality experience for all participants and fans.”
The NCAA Confederate flag policy was enacted in 2001 by the NCAA Executive Committee (now the Board of Governors) due to the flag’s prominence in various states.
“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,” said Mark Emmert, NCAA president. “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.”
The Executive Committee reviewed the policy in 2014, per a request by the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee. The policy remained unchanged, which allowed schools competing in sports such as baseball, softball, lacrosse and later women’s basketball the opportunity to host preliminary non-determined championship events in their home state, which included Mississippi. That will no longer be allowed under the expanded flag policy.
The NCAA requires city and state officials bidding on its tournaments to indicate how it expects the events to be safe, accessible, respectful and welcome to all. The NCAA hosts 90 championships in 24 sports every year.
Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen responded on social media with this:
The NCAA's announcement comes on the heels of Thursday's statement from Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey, who said he is giving consideration to also banning SEC championship events from Mississippi if there is no flag change.
With postseason events like baseball regionals and women's NCAA Tournament games now banned from Mississippi, that might be the most noteworthy ban of them all in the sporting sense. At least one of Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Southern Miss are in the hosting discussion for baseball regionals almost yearly. Ole Miss hosted a softball regional in 2019. MSU's women's basketball team has played host to the first two rounds of the women's NCAA Tournament in four straight seasons and likely would have done so for a fifth year in a row if this year's Tournament hadn't been cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
This all comes on the heels of debates renewing about changing the state of Mississippi's flag in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the ensuing protests around the nation regarding racial equality.
There have been many calls in the past and present to change the state flag, but the symbol has remained in Mississippi. Mississippi voters overwhelmingly voted to keep the current flag when the issue went to ballots back in 2001. The current flag won by a nearly two-to-one margin. Nearly 20 years later though, the current climate has led to much renewed interest in revisiting the issue.
Some Mississippi lawmakers began moving towards trying to change the state flag last week. A resolution was filed to start the process, which sought to change the flag by a legislative measure instead of a statewide public vote. However Mississippi Today reported on Wednesday that Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann had assigned the legislation to change the flag to a Senate Constitution committee where the legislation would not likely pass.
Still, there is much public support to change the flag. An online petition to change it had gathered more than 142,500 signatures as of Friday morning.
At the same time, many Mississippians also remain in the corner of keeping the current flag. A recent poll from Mississippi-based Chism Strategies had 46 percent of respondents in favor of retaining the current flag with 45 percent in support of changing it. Nine percent were unsure.