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NCAA board to take up flag

NCAA board to take up flag

STEVE CAMERON

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The NCAA has a chance to re-open the Civil War.

Or some of its oldest wounds, at least.

When the NCAA's executive committee meets Friday in Indianapolis, that group's 20 college presidents — 16 of whom have voting privileges — will discuss a request from the National Association of Basketball Coaches and consider actions that could reverberate around much of the old Confederacy.

The specific issue at hand is the NABC's desire to keep a scheduled event out of South Carolina, but sports venues throughout the South eventually could be affected.

The Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C., was selected to host first- and second-round games in the 2002 NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Earlier this year, the NABC made known its objection to all events in South Carolina. The coaches were acting in concert with a boycott of the state by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which had called for the Confederate flag to be removed from atop the state Capitol in Columbia.

South Carolina legislators reached a compromise in May, and on July 1, the battle flag was taken down — but replaced by a smaller version of the banner, which was added to a Confederate war memorial on the statehouse grounds.

That change did not appease everyone, however. The NABC refused to back away from its objections to the Greenville site.

The NCAA's first immediate decisions — whether to move the basketball tournament out of Greenville and replace Furman University with a new host for the 2001 Division I men's and women's cross-country meets — will impact Greenville, the co-host Southern Conference and all the NCAA's 20 member institutions in South Carolina.

But the fallout likely wouldn't stop there.

The 2002 NCAA men's Final Four, for instance, is scheduled for Atlanta — where the NAACP has said it plans to stage more protests over the fact that the Confederate flag remains part of the Georgia state flag.

"There are a lot of difficult political realities that become involved here," said Carl Scheer, CEO of Greenville-based Scheer Sports, the developer-operator of the Bi-Lo Center. "This situation already has been difficult for coaches and administrators at all the schools in South Carolina, and it really makes you wonder how that could play out in Georgia or Mississippi or some other states if the issue isn't resolved.

"Obviously, we're hoping the NCAA will see the serious efforts made by the governor and others in South Carolina, and understand how hard it was to strike that compromise on a very emotional issue. Losing the tournament would be a tremendous blow in prestige to Greenville. This is the first NCAA men's tournament the state has ever hosted, and there is a lot of pride involved in it."

In what they hope will be a preview of the NCAA's decision, the Southern Conference's 12 presidents voted to accept the flag removal in Columbia as enough cooperation from the state. Four of the conference's member schools — Furman, Wofford, College of Charleston and The Citadel — are located in South Carolina.

"That was our decision, which doesn't necessarily mean it is the decision of the NCAA," said Alfred White, commissioner of the Southern Conference. "But clearly, we would like to see the executive committee agree that we can get back to business as usual.

"Part of that business, certainly, would be having the cross-country meets at Furman and the men's basketball tournament in Greenville, where those events are scheduled and where we'd like to see them held."

The NCAA executive committee, which had threatened to remove all championships, tournaments and other events from South Carolina if the flag was not removed by the time of its August meeting, originally seemed satisfied by the state's actions.

A statement from the NCAA read, in part, that collegiate athletics' governing body was "pleased that the governor and state Legislature have been able to reach agreement on the matter."

Charles Wethington, president of the University of Kentucky and chairman of the executive committee, also indicated that he felt the situation had been resolved.

The coaches organization, however, has balked at accepting what essentially was a political compromise in South Carolina.

Early in July, during an NABC meeting in Las Vegas, Division I coaches voted to continue their opposition to holding tournaments in South Carolina.

"We do not see the situation as having been cleared up, and we think the NCAA should move the site out of Greenville," NABC director Jim Haney said. "The discussion on this topic in Las Vegas centered around the fact that the NAACP once again had indicated that, although the flag had come off the statehouse ... it was still not satisfactory in their eyes in terms of the new location of the flag."

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