“There is no place in college athletics or the world for symbols or acts of discrimination and oppression,” Michael V. Drake, Ohio State president and chair of the NCAA’s board of governors, said in a statement. “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.”
Mississippi has never hosted an NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament game, but the state has been the site of numerous Division I women’s basketball tournament games, including each tournament between 2016 and 2019.
The NCAA said the rule change specifically applies only to Mississippi, though Georgia’s state flag also contains Confederate imagery: It is a near-replica of the national flag flown by the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1863. The NCAA did not respond to questions about whether the new flag policy will also apply to Georgia, or whether that state’s flag was discussed when making the rule change.
On Thursday, Mississippi was warned by SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey that the conference will consider not holding postseason events there unless the state changes its flag.
“It is past time for change to be made to the flag of the State of Mississippi,” Sankey said in a 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 state flag is changed.”
Soon after Sankey’s statement, Mississippi State Athletic Director John Cohen released a message saying the school supports the SEC’s stance, even if it means not hosting conference events. (The school hosted the SEC softball tournament in 2016.)
“Alongside our university leadership, we aim to continue our support for changing the state flag, which should unite us, not divide us,” Cohen said in a statement.
Mississippi State President Mark Keenum noted in a statement of his own that the school’s students and faculty have been pressuring the state to change its flag since 2015 and said he understands Sankey’s stance.
“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,” Keenum said.
In 2015, the University of Mississippi, which has hosted SEC softball, track and field, and tennis tournaments in recent years, stopped flying the state flag on its campus after a vote of the student senate.
“We support the SEC’s position for changing the Mississippi state flag to an image that is more welcoming and inclusive for all people,” Chancellor Glenn Boyce and Athletic Director Keith Carter said in a statement Thursday.
In the wake of protests for social justice that have followed George Floyd’s death while in the custody of Minneapolis police, Democrats in the Mississippi State Senate filed a resolution that would allow the Senate to consider changing the state flag. But on Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann (R) assigned that legislation to a committee from which the resolution has little chance of passing.
Trey Lamar, a Republican member of the Mississippi House of Representatives, wrote on Twitter on Thursday night that changing the flag “is the right thing to do.”
“A flag’s sole purpose is to unite a people around a common cause,” Lamar wrote. “Reality has proven clear that the Mississippi flag no longer unites, but divides us unnecessarily. I will not sit by idly while our college athletes lose their hard earned right to compete in post season play before our home state fans over a banner that no longer accomplishes its sole mission to unify our people. I will stand up for our student athletes. It is time to change the flag.”
In 2015, South Carolina took down the Confederate battle flag that flew over its State House after photos surfaced of mass murderer Dylann Roof posing with it. In return, the NCAA ended its 14-year boycott of predetermined events in the state.