Opinion: NCAA's State Punishments Raise Red Flags

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Copyright 2017 News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)
All Rights Reserved

News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)


GREENVILLE, S.C. -- First things first. This is a really cool city, and I can't wait to come back.

There are only a handful of places on this earth where I would consider living, and this is one of them.

But ...

We weren't in Greenville last weekend looking for a house. Thousands of people were in the upstate of South Carolina to watch the NCAA men's basketball tournament 190 miles from where it was supposed to be.


It was taken from us because of a political issue that ran counter to good taste and civility. Greenville's good fortune came at our expense. So when we arrived at Bon Secours Wellness Arena early Sunday afternoon and saw protesters' Confederate flags waving in a state infamous for its refusal to take the flag off its statehouse grounds, well, let's just say the NCAA had some explaining to do.

The explanation came in the form of a statement, which sounded a bit like a cop-out.

"Freedom-of-speech activities on public property in areas surrounding the arena are managed by the city of Greenville, and we are supportive of the city's efforts," said Dan Gavitt, the NCAA senior vice president of basketball.

What he didn't say was, "We're sorry, Greensboro. We didn't anticipate this."

The NCAA is holding up its announcement of future tournament sites, giving North Carolina more time to repeal HB 2. It's looking like that's unlikely. Greensboro was to have been the host of the first- and second-round games that ended up in Greenville, a gesture by the NCAA that North Carolina needed to learn a lesson and that South Carolina had already learned its lesson.

Which we now know it hasn't.

The demonstrators who showed up Sunday weren't basketball fans. They weren't all from South Carolina. They weren't all white, either, believe it or not.

But the symbolism of the same flag that cost the state 15 years of NCAA sanctions was as stark as the comments from the demonstrators and far more powerful than the NCAA's weak response.

"We wanted to show the NCAA that we're still here," Hunter Meadows, one of the demonstrators, told The Associated Press.

Say what you will about the right to demonstrate or the right to free speech or the NCAA's right to make a stand wherever it deems necessary, but North Carolina is getting ready to lose six years of tournaments over a law that restricts something no one in this state has ever seen happen and something that can't be policed anyway.

The NCAA's stance on these issues isn't even consistent. Did anyone notice that the first and second rounds of the women's NCAA tournament included games in Durham? Does anyone remember that during the 15 years of sanctions against South Carolina that NCAA baseball tournament games were still played there?

The tournaments moved out of North Carolina were "neutral-site" events, not on-campus events that the host school "earned."

"The NCAA council of presidents didn't want to punish the institutions," an ACC spokesperson said.

The ACC, meanwhile, has followed the NCAA's precedent. The league, for example, moved neutral-site football, men's basketball and women's basketball championship events out of the state but left on campuses championships such as wrestling at N.C. State and fencing at Duke.

So what we have here is a failure to communicate the message. In theory, North Carolina has made its stand on the side of HB 2, though most citizens of North Carolina have no voice in the matter. In theory, South Carolina made its stand when it removed the flag from the statehouse grounds after Dylann Roof killed nine African-Americans in Charleston in 2015. But not all the citizens of South Carolina agree with the state's decision, as we saw Sunday.

Greenville itself is not to blame. Even though several demonstrators acknowledge that they were "invited" to protest, the vast majority of people were horrified at the display. It would've been appropriate for the NCAA to reflect that reaction instead of its tepid response.

The NCAA needs a better explanation of why North Carolina is being singled out, why certain events are deemed different and how in the world it thinks this is going to change anything. Obviously, little has changed in South Carolina.

The NCAA comes off looking confused or hypocritical. Neither is a good look for a sanctioning body that's now in the punishment business.

The next four-year block of tournament sites will be announced April 18, and it looks almost certain that North Carolina will be closed out of the process in just a matter of days.

But if South Carolina is awarded tournaments after what we saw this past weekend, the NCAA will have even more explaining to do.

Contact Ed Hardin at (336) 373-7069, and follow @Ed_Hardin on Twitter.

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March 21, 2017


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