STARKVILLE — The NCAA has levied a major blow to those in favor of maintaining the Confederate battle emblem on the Mississippi state flag.
Friday, college sports’ governing body updated its stance on the state flag noting that Mississippi institutions — most notably Ole Miss and Mississippi State — will not be allowed to host regional events of any kind until the flag is changed.
“There is no place in college athletics or the world for symbols or acts of discrimination and oppression,” Michael V. Drake, chair of the board and president of the Ohio State University, said in a news release. “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’s response Friday is an escalation of measures previously put in place in 2001 in which Mississippi schools were restricted from hosting pre-selected NCAA championships over Confederate flag concerns. However, those restrictions did not previously include postseason events like baseball or softball regionals that are not pre-selected, nor did they disallow MSU from hosting rotating events like the 2016 SEC softball championships — the last SEC championship hosted by either MSU or Ole Miss.
That same year a referendum was put forth asking voters to choose between the current state flag — originally adopted in 1894 — and a newly designed model. More than 64 percent of voters chose in favor of keeping what remains Mississippi’s official banner.
The NCAA’s staunch response to growing controversy over the Mississippi state flag comes less than 24 hours after Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey released a statement saying both Ole Miss and MSU could be precluded from hosting future conference championship events should the banner not be changed.
“It is past time for change to be made to the flag of the state of Mississippi,” Sankey said in a news release. “Our students deserve an opportunity to learn and compete in environments that are inclusive and welcoming to all.”
Following Sankey’s comments, Mississippi Today published a letter reportedly sent to NCAA administrators on Thursday signed by 31 former collegiate student-athletes from schools across the state calling on the NCAA to prevent the state from hosting college baseball regionals or women’s basketball tournament games until the flag is changed — a motion that was answered swiftly Friday.
“Mississippi student-athletes are realizing their voice, and their days of playing sports underneath a confederate flag in Mississippi will soon be over, one way or another,” the letter reads. “Please consider your mission and join us in our movement forward. Together and united we will have our change.”
Both Mississippi State President Dr. Mark E. Keenum and Athletic Director John Cohen issued statements reiterating their stance that the flag ought to be changed, while Ole Miss Chancellor Glenn Boyce and Athletic Director Keith Carter issued a joint statement in support of removing the Confederate iconography from the state’s flag, writing, “Mississippi needs a flag that represents the qualities about our state that unite us, not those that still divide us.”
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.