Confederate flag at heart of why NAACP is upset at NCAA

FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2015, file photo, players and fans cheer during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game between South Carolina and Texas A&M in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina is No. 1 when it comes to fan support at home. While women's college basketball is plagued by empty arenas, interest in Dawn Staley and the Gamecocks has increased exponentially, they averaged 12,540 fans in 14 home games this season. (AP Photo/The State, Tracy Glantz, File)

South Carolina is hosting an NCAA tournament game for the first time in 13 years, and there are more than a few members of the NAACP who aren't happy about it.

The Palmetto State is under an NCAA tournament ban because it flies the Confederate flag on the statehouse grounds. But the organization is allowing the SEC champion Gamecocks to host games this weekend because of a new format delegating home dates to top-16 seeds in March Madness.

So the home team gets to stay home even though the ban is still in effect.

"If they were really serious about supporting the cause of justice, there would be no loopholes," said Lonnie Randolph, president of the state chapter of the NAACP.

Randolph said he accepts the NCAA's decision, but he's upset his group was not informed until it was made.

Confederate flags fly from a house on Church Street in downtown Charleston, S.C., in 2012. (AP)
Confederate flags fly from a house on Church Street in downtown Charleston, S.C., in 2012. (AP)

"I don't agree with how they handled it," Randolph said. "We didn't have a chance to have a conversation with them about it."

In an email to Yahoo Sports, NCAA spokesman Cameron Schuh explained the decision to allow the Gamecocks to host:

"With this format making it a non-predetermined NCAA championship, schools in South Carolina and Mississippi are now permitted to serve as hosts for those rounds of the championship. Under the previous format, schools in South Carolina and Mississippi were not permitted to host championship games in any round due to the NCAA confederate flag policy, which states that no predetermined NCAA championship site may take place in a state where the confederate flag has a prominent presence."

So games in those two states that are earned through play are allowed, while games that are delegated, or chosen, are not.

Randolph said "this will not cause a major problem with the organization at this time," but he also said he's heard from several members who are upset because "it appears they are softening their approach to injustice."

James Gallman, who lives in South Carolina and is a member of the NAACP national board, called the NCAA's justification "garbage."

"They told us there would be no event held in South Carolina that led up to championships. This is a predetermined event. They could have established other sites."

Dawn Staley is the second person ever to play and coach for a No. 1-ranked team. (USA Today)
Dawn Staley is the second person ever to play and coach for a No. 1-ranked team. (USA Today)

Gallman, who has been on the national board for nine years, said he's "totally opposed" to the games being played in his state under the ban. But he lays some of the blame at his own organization for not mobilizing quickly enough in opposition.

"There were some things done too slowly on our part here in South Carolina and at the national office," he said. "It got to the point where they were going to move ahead. I had suggested there would be some demonstrations but we at the NAACP did not plan."

The Gamecocks are led by coach Dawn Staley, a Hall of Famer from her playing days at Virginia and now credited with building a power in Columbia. Staley carried the U.S. flag at the opening ceremonies for the 2004 Olympics, and is only the second person ever to play and coach for a No. 1-ranked team. She was asked in 2013 by The Daily Gamecock about the flag and the policy.

"I understand the history here in South Carolina," she told the paper. "It's not my history, but it's somebody's history. I think it prevents us and it prevents me from doing my job in a place that I choose to call home. If it creates an opportunity for us not to have [an NCAA tournament game at home], then yes, I'm offended."

That year, Staley's team had to fly to Colorado to face the lower-seeded Buffaloes, and they lost. A columnist in the Post and Courier blamed the ban. "The flag flap almost certainly cost South Carolina a trip to the Sweet 16," wrote Gene Sapakoff, "but ill-conceived NCAA punishment of our state isn't effective. Worse, it has backfired and should be shelved."

Randolph is sensitive to the concern that the players themselves suffered because of the rule, and that has lessened his resentment to the shift in format. "This isn't about punishing people," he said.

Yet nothing could mitigate his resentment of the flag.

"What the confederacy stands for," Randolph said, "is against everything America stands for."