NCAA Women’s Tournament Game May Tip Off Under Confederate Flag

Photographer: C Michael Bergen/The State/MCT via Getty Images

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley speaks to her team during a game in December, 2013. Close

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley speaks to her team during a game in December, 2013.

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Photographer: C Michael Bergen/The State/MCT via Getty Images

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley speaks to her team during a game in December, 2013.

South Carolina and Mississippi, the two states that fly Confederate flags on their capitol grounds, will be allowed to host women’s basketball tournament games next year under a National Collegiate Athletic Association rule change.

The college sports governing body banned the states in 2001 from hosting postseason sports at predetermined sites because they use the flag as a state symbol. It altered the format for the women’s basketball tournament for 2015, allowing the top 16 teams to host their first two games instead of using prepicked sites.

South Carolina’s women’s basketball team (25-2) is ranked fourth in the Associated Press poll and would host at least one tournament game next season with a similar performance. The NCAA made the format change without consulting the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, with which it has had a long relationship, said Lonnie Randolph Jr., the president of South Carolina’s NAACP chapter.

“We’re concerned as to how this matter could have gotten this far without at least sitting down and discussing with us if they’ve had a change in policies,” Randolph said in a telephone interview.

The NAACP’s focus in South Carolina the past 14 years has been to halt tourism to the state -- where the first shots of the American Civil War were fired in 1861 -- as long as it continues to display the Confederate flag, Randolph said. The state began flying the flag in 1962.

Tournament Change

The NCAA said it didn’t change its policy regarding the flag, rather it altered the format of the women’s basketball tournament. The flag policy was designed not to punish teams that earned a tournament home game based on their won-loss records, it said, and that discussions with the NAACP have never been closed. Tournament games in less popular sports have been played there.

South Carolina Athletic Director Ray Tanner didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The NCAA also has banned all postseason games in states that allow sports gambling or schools that use Native American mascots. The University of Nevada-Las Vegas, for example, wouldn’t be allowed to host women’s tournament games next year even with the format change because sports gambling is legal in Nevada, Mark Wasik, a spokesman for the school, said in an e-mail.

The Management Council of the NCAA’s lower-level Division III in October urged the organization to change the flag ban to match the sports gambling and native American mascot bans.

Committee Comment

“Ultimately, if the policy is designed to protect student-athlete well-being, there should not be any differentiation between predetermined and non-predetermined championship sites, as the principle issue remains the same for both -- the well-being of the student athletes,” the council said, according to a report posted on the NCAA’s website. “A state that prominently displays a symbol that is offensive in nature should not be permitted to host a championship, regardless of how the site is determined.”

Randolph, of the NAACP, said an example of the flag’s divisiveness is an incident last week at the University of Mississippi, where a noose and a flag with a Confederate battle emblem was placed around a statue of James Meredith, the Oxford, Mississippi, school’s first African-American student.

“If it’s hate in Mississippi, it sure is hate in this state,” said Randolph, 64.

If the issue isn’t resolved the topic will be further addressed during the NAACP’s regional meeting in Atlanta during the second weekend in March, just as the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments are about to get under way, Randolph said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mason Levinson in New York at mlevinson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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