ACC ignores Confederate flag ban

League says policy is ‘unfair’ in awarding baseball tournament to Myrtle Beach
By Paul Strelow – The (Columbia) State

CLEMSON — Calling the policy “unfair” to South Carolina, the ACC decided this year it no longer would mimic the NCAA’s ban on predetermined championship events being held in the state, a league official said Thursday.

On Wednesday, the ACC announced Myrtle Beach had been awarded the conference’s baseball tournament for three years, beginning in 2011. The league also considered a bid from Greenville among the five finalists.

The NCAA’s ban is in place so long as the Confederate flag continues to fly on the grounds of the state capitol. It began in 2001.

Both the ACC and SEC quietly fell in step with college athletics’ governing body, although the SEC held its women’s basketball tournament in Greenville two years ago when Atlanta withdrew as the planned site.

But Davis Whitfield, ACC associate commissioner and director of championships, said the league chose to quit punishing prospective host sites if they could produce a proactive plan for handling the flag controversy should their site be picked.

“For a while, we tried to take the same stance with the flag issue and predetermined sites,” Whitfield said. “But as this issue has gone on, we looked at it and felt it was a bit unfair to South Carolina.

“Obviously it’s a South Carolina issue, and one that has not necessarily been at the forefront the last few years. It wasn’t something we spent a lot of time on, I would say. … It certainly is still an issue. But both sites did a good job of addressing the issue in a manner we’re comfortable with.”

Myrtle Beach’s bid was spearheaded by North Johnson, general manager of the city’s Class A minor league baseball team, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Johnson said U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the nation’s highest-ranking black congressman, wrote a letter to the ACC endorsing Myrtle Beach’s candidacy.

Should the flag controversy stir locally come tournament time, Johnson said the city’s chamber of commerce has enlisted a public-relations firm to help resolve any issues that arise.

“We don’t fly the flag here at the ballpark; that was our first comment to the ACC,” Johnson said. “It’s not on any of our public buildings.

“We’re understanding of the situation, but we’re not overly concerned about it. We’ve taken all steps necessary to ensure the ACC it won’t be an issue.”

Lonnie Randolph, state president of the NAACP, said he planned to contact the ACC on Thursday to ask why it was moving “backwards.”

As the flag debate has quieted in recent years, Randolph said he has spoken with the SEC more frequently than the ACC about the NCAA’s ban.

“We have not had a lot of communication with (the ACC), unfortunately,” Randolph said. “The SEC has shown a lot more interest.

“(SEC commissioner) Mike (Slive) has been very receptive to at least listening to our concerns. The ACC has not been as receptive, but we still will communicate.”

Randolph was at the NCAA’s Indianapolis headquarters last year to meet with NCAA president Miles Brand and the organization’s executive committee regarding the flag issue.

“They said their support will continue until such time they are told it is no longer needed,” Randolph said.

Economics had little to do with the decision to eschew the state ban, Whitfield said. He said the choice came down to the logistical advantages Myrtle Beach afforded.

One Clemson administrator, speaking on condition of anonymity, believed Myrtle Beach was attractive to ACC officials because it was centrally located within the conference’s geographical map, offering a trip that would be more attractive to fans in what still could be a difficult economic time.

After luring a record crowd of 73,215 in 2006, Jacksonville’s attendance slipped to around 55,970 last year.

The tournament will be held in Durham, N.C., next week and Greensboro, N.C., in 2010.

Charleston also contacted the conference with interest in serving as host for the baseball tournament, Whitfield said, while Aiken pursued — to no avail — the ACC’s rowing championships a few years ago.

© Copyright 2009, The Herald, Rock Hill, S.C.

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