COLUMBIA, S.C. -- All NCAA-sponsored sports events in South Carolina, including the 2002 men's basketball regional in Greenville, will be canceled unless the Confederate flag is removed from the Statehouse dome by Aug. 11.
The governing body of college sports said Friday they would not hold NCAA tournaments for any sport in South Carolina if the flag remains. The decision would not affect individual school schedules or conference tournaments.
"There is no question that to a significant number of our constituents, the flag is a symbol of oppression," Charles Wethington, NCAA executive committee chairman, said Friday.
The committee meets again Aug. 11 and a cancellation by the NCAA would be the most prominent move since the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People announced last summer a tourism boycott.
Earlier this month, Serena Williams withdrew from the Family Circle Cup tennis tournament to support the effort.
"This has created an inhospitable environment for many of our coaches and student athletes, and for some, it's an intolerable environment," Wethington said.
Many of the state's college football and basketball coaches, including Clemson's Tommy Bowden and Larry Shyatt and South Carolina's Lou Holtz and Eddie Fogler, have called for the flag's removal. Last month, Penn State baseball players wore armbands to protest the flag during their series at Winthrop.
Flag opponents say the banner is a symbol of racism. Supporters say it honors Confederate veterans and is a symbol of Southern heritage.
The NCAA's decision comes less than two weeks after its baseball committee decided not to exclude South Carolina and Clemson from consideration as regional hosts this year. Wethington said the executive committee's decision would not affect events scheduled this spring.
"It is our hope the governor of South Carolina will be successful in resolving this issue," Wethington said. "We simply today signaled what action we would take if conditions don't change."
Dwight James, executive director of the NAACP's South Carolina Conference of Branches, said the NCAA's announcement would bolster its efforts.
"We hope that this will be a signal to the state Legislature that it's time for them to make the right decision and remove these divisive symbols from the Statehouse campus," James said.
The state Senate earlier this month passed a bill to remove the flag and fly a similar banner in front of the Statehouse at a monument honoring Confederate soldiers. The bill was approved this week in the House Judiciary Committee and is headed for debate. The Legislature, which has sole authority to remove the flag, adjourns June 1.
Republican House Speaker David Wilkins of Greenville, a flag supporter who is leading efforts to get the bill passed, said he didn't think lawmakers would be swayed by the NCAA decision.
"It is my belief that the General Assembly will resolve the flag issue with honor and dignity and finality this year," Wilkins said.
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