SEC still open to having events in South Carolina

Updated: March 1, 2005, 7:52 PM ET
Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The Confederate flag might undermine future sports events at South Carolina, which this week is hosting the Southeastern Conference women's basketball tournament.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive said his league selected Greenville when the original site withdrew to host another event. At the time, Slive said the SEC had no firm policy on the issue and the Bi-Lo Center was a good location. This week's tournament begins Thursday and is not in danger.

Slive told The Associated Press on Tuesday the flag would be on the agenda at the SEC's spring meetings and might lead to a moratorium on bringing championships to the state like the one the NCAA established in 2002.

"We have enormous respect for the issue," Slive said. "We're about diversity and opportunity."

The NAACP began an economic boycott of the state in January 2000 because the flag flew atop the South Carolina Capitol. When that flag was removed, a similar one was put up at a monument on Statehouse grounds. The NAACP says the new location is even more visible and the boycott has continued, though it's not as widely supported as the original action.

The NCAA first imposed a two-year ban on awarding championships to the state in 2002. The governing body extended the ban indefinitely last year.

Slive expected the SEC would follow the NCAA's model and keep neutral-site championships like men's and women's basketball out of South Carolina.

"I applaud the leadership of the conference for coming out and saying that they will be more understanding," said Lonnie Randolph, state director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "Understanding and respect is what's important."

Events awarded on merit, like NCAA baseball and softball regionals, can still be held in South Carolina. Slive said SEC championships that rotate among the 12 league schools probably will still come to the state.

South Carolina lawmakers, for the most part, consider the issue closed.

"I think most members feel like that issue was dealt with honorably and that this is behind us," House Speaker David Wilkins, R-Greenville, said. "I don't see in the House -- or the Senate -- any real appetite to bring that issue back to the forefront."

A ban will cost the state financially. The 2002 NCAA Tournament in Greenville had a local impact of about $5.2 million, according to the Greenville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Randolph says the NAACP's previous sports actions succeeded in making people around the nation aware of the issue.

"The fight for justice is an ongoing fight," he said. "We're talking about changing attitudes."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press