TUPELO • The NCAA’s Board of Governors put its clout behind a change in Mississippi’s state flag with a dramatic move on Friday morning.
That’s when the NCAA’s top leadership panel expanded its “Confederate flag policy” to prevent any championship events from being played “in states where the symbol has a prominent presence.”
Mississippi’s flag incorporates the Confederate battle emblem.
As the statement from the Board of Governors noted, “Mississippi is the only state currently affected by the Association’s policy.”
On Thursday, the SEC announced it would consider halting conference-sponsored championship events in Mississippi until the state flag is changed.
Later in the day, a letter by a group of 31 former college athletes in Mississippi was published online, asking the NCAA to take a more active role against the flag.
Most notably, the NCAA’s latest move would exclude the state’s major college baseball and softball programs – Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Southern Miss – from hosting NCAA regional or super regional playoff games. Also, first- and second-round NCAA women’s basketball playoff games would be off the table until the flag is changed.
“There can be no place within college sports where any student-athlete is demeaned or unwelcome,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement.
Not holding those kinds of well-attended events in the state will hit the Hattiesburg, Oxford and Starkville communities in the pocketbook.
Mississippi State has hosted 14 NCAA baseball regionals and three super regionals, most recently in 2019. Ole Miss has hosted nine regionals, most recently in 2019, and three super regionals. Southern Miss has hosted regionals twice (2003, 2017).
MSU’s women hosted games in the first two rounds of the NCAA basketball tourney for four-consecutive years beginning in 2016.
In softball, Ole Miss has hosted regionals twice, in 2017 and 2019.
In a joint statement Friday afternoon, the presidents of the state’s NCAA institutions added their voices to the latest calls for change, citing “the millions of dollars in economic impact that NCAA postseason events bring to our state.”
The final paragraph of the 200-word statement: “We are looking forward to a time when our state flag represents the full and rich diversity of Mississippi, a diversity that is reflected in our student-athletes, our student bodies, and the friends and fans of our athletics teams. We look forward to a time when Mississippi’s state flag unites Mississippians, rather than divides us.”
Other NCAA institutions in the state: Division I Alcorn State, Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State; Division II Delta State and Mississippi College; and Division III Belhaven University, Millsaps College and Mississippi University for Women.
Gov. Tate Reeves did not respond on Friday to requests for comment about the new policy.
The NCAA’s Confederate flag policy was enacted in 2001 due to the flag’s prominence in various states at that time.
“There is no place in college athletics or the world for symbols or acts of discrimination and oppression,” Michael V. Drake, chair of the NCAA board and president of Ohio State University, said in a statement on Friday. “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 executive panel reviewed the policy in 2014, but it remained unchanged at that time.