Morris: Rebel flag costs S.C. at tourney time
Posted on 03.24.09

Ron Morris

Columnist

rmorris@thestate.com
(803) 771-8432

THIS TIME OF YEAR pains me greatly. The NCAA tournament was played this past weekend at eight sites around the country, including Greensboro, N.C., and Boise, Idaho.

For yet another year, Columbia was left off the national basketball map, despite having an 18,000-seat arena that could host a regional and a university willing to put on the show.

You might have forgotten that Columbia can never be the site for a pre-determined NCAA tournament. Never, at least, until the Confederate flag is removed from the State House grounds.

So, it will not happen in my lifetime. No doubt, it will take at least another 50 years or so for the state of South Carolina to move into the 21st century. But I will leave that argument to our fine elected leaders on Gervais Street.

Instead, I present to you everything Columbia is missing every March, not the least of which is a financial boon to the city. When Charlotte hosted the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament a year ago, its Chamber of Commerce boasted of the millions of dollars pumped into the local economy.

Make no mistake about it, this is a money-making venture for the host city. For an NCAA basketball event, the host city essentially opens its front door and asks visitors to drop cash at area hotels and restaurants. The NCAA covers all expenses.

Contrast that to football bowl game, where a city must form a corporation that seeks sponsorships. Most of the game’s money is tied up in payouts to the participating teams.

Beyond the obvious financial gains, the city of Columbia would benefit immensely from the national exposure garnered by hosting a tournament. The city can’t possibly purchase the kind of publicity it would get from having its name printed on every NCAA tournament bracket across the country.

Every time the CBS cameras zoomed in on a court this past weekend, the host city’s name was splashed across the TV screen. The crack marketing folks in some cities printed the city’s name in bold, CAPITAL letters across both baselines.

Even when CBS switched from one game to another in its telecasts, the host in New York City chimed in with, “Now, let’s go to Miami …” or Boise or Kansas City or Dayton. The cameras can’t take us to Columbia, though.

Greensboro, a city comparable in size to Columbia, has been hosting NCAA basketball regionals and the ACC tournament off and on for decades. Basketball fans around the country know Greensboro as a mid-sized city in North Carolina that is basketball crazed.

All the money Columbia has doled out for music festivals and new slogans would come back in spades with just one weekend of NCAA tournament basketball. Not a person outside Columbia — OK, and most people within the city limits — knows that “Famously Hot” is the city’s new slogan.

The slogans keep changing in a never-ending failed attempt by the city of Columbia to attract visitors for tourism and meetings. One weekend of tournament basketball would sell the city of Columbia nationwide like no slogan ever could. And unless you’re bringing in Bruce Springsteen for a festival, the Columbia music scene is not going to attract a multitude of tourists.

Before reminding me that we’re talking about a single sporting event over one weekend, let me suggest that this goes far beyond merely hosting a basketball tournament. Moving the flag to a museum and removing the stigma of racism attached to it would go a long way toward improving the state’s image.

I understand fully that hosting such an event means dreaming big. It is progressive thinking in a state where progress is usually measured by whether we move up to 48th nationally in public school education or by the fact we moved the Confederate flag from atop the State House to — celebrate! — the State House grounds.

In the end, it is a sad statement that the state of South Carolina and the city of Columbia cannot host an NCAA basketball tournament because it cares more about recognizing its racist past than its prosperous future.

Maybe some day …

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