Coaches Ask NCAA to Avoid South Carolina
By Craig T. Greenlee
GREENVILLE, S.C. — For the time being, the National Collegiate Athletics Association will take a wait and see approach in responding to a plea to move the 2002 Division I Men’s South Regional Basketball Tournament from Greenville, S.C.
The Black Coaches Association and the National Association of Basketball Coaches have joined forces in pushing for a change of venue because South Carolina flies the Confederate flag over its Statehouse and has yet to recognize the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a permanent state holiday. King’s birthday has been a national holiday for 14 years.
The flying of the Confederate flag has created a wave of controversy. Opponents argue that it symbolizes slavery and racial bigotry. Supporters counter that the flag represents the state’s heritage and provides a means to honor Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War.
South Carolina’s legislature is the sole body that has the power to remove the flag, which first went up in 1962 as part of the Civil War centennial celebration.
The call for taking the flag down comes at a time when South Carolina is under heavy pressure from an NAACP-inspired boycott designed to hamper the state’s lucrative tourism industry.
Given the political angles of this issue, it’s not likely that the NCAA will take any action any time soon.
“I’m inclined to think that the NCAA will not rush to judgement about this,” says Charles Harris, commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. “With so much lead time available, there’s no need to decide anything right away.
“My feeling,” he continues, “is that the folks in South Carolina will work this out on their own, long before it’s time to play the regionals in Greenville.” Wallace Renfro, NCAA public affairs director, gives assurances that the NCAA takes this issue seriously. Renfro said the NCAA will keep an eye on future developments in South Carolina, but there will be no decisions rendered at this time.
“This is a serious matter,” Renfro says. “But if there are any decisions to be made, those decisions won’t be made unilaterally at our national office. If and when a decision is made, it will involve the NCAA membership.
“At this time, it has not been determined who might be a part of that decision-making process. I would think the NCAA’s Executive Committee would be interested. And so would the Division I Championship Cabinet and the Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament Selection Committee,” he adds.
C.M. Newton, athletics director at the University of Kentucky and past chairman of the tournament selection committee, will not venture a guess as to what posture the NCAA will adopt in this controversy.
Newton, a longtime coach and athletics administrator, is no stranger to dealing with race issues in sports. He is widely regarded as the man most responsible for integrating basketball in the Southeastern Conference in the late ’60s. During his 12-year stint as head coach at the University of Alabama, Newton actively recruited Black athletes and gave them prominent roles on this teams.
“I’m past the point of trying to guess what might happen,” Newton says. “But I do feel the NCAA will act in a fair manner. That’s been the tendency.”
Newton is well aware of how people in the Deep South get so charged up about issues regarding the Confederate flag. But in his mind, finding a resolution to this conflict comes down to doing what’s right for the people of South Carolina.
“Hopefully, they’ll do the right thing,” Newton says. “In my opinion, doing the right thing is to take the flag down from the state capital.
“I would think that the South Carolina Legislature would arrive at a decision that will not alienate African Americans, who make up a sizeable portion of their population,” he concludes. “I feel that people who support flying that flag can find some other ways to preserve Confederate history.”
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