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SEC Commissioner: Change state flag or lose championship hosting opportunities

The Southeastern Conference has entered into the hotly-contested debate surrounding Mississippi’s state flag, and provided an ultimatum of sorts on Thursday.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey issued a statement regarding the Mississippi state flag, which is the only flag in the United States to still feature the Confederate flag symbol. Sankey urged state leaders to change it or allow Mississippi’s student-athletes to suffer the penalty.

“It is past time for change to be made to the flag of the State of Mississippi,” Sankey said. “Our students deserve an opportunity to learn and compete in environments that are inclusive and welcoming to all. In the event there is no change, there will be consideration of precluding Southeastern Conference championship events from being conducted in the State of Mississippi until the flag is changed.”

The major championship events for football, basketball and baseball are all played at neutral sites in major cities, but the smaller sports that have championship sites rotated around the 14 SEC campuses could feel the effect of this. Softball, track & field and tennis championships, which Ole Miss has hosted one of in recent years, would no longer come to Oxford or Starkville if the flag stays as-is.

Both Ole Miss and Mississippi State leaders spoke about Sankey’s comments on Thursday evening. A joint statement by Ole Miss athletics director Keith Carter and Chancellor Glenn Boyce echoed Sankey’s sentiments, but also reminded people that the state flag has not flown on the Ole Miss campus since 2015.

“The University of Mississippi community concluded years ago that the Confederate battle flag did not represent many of our core values, such as civility and respect for others,” the statement read. “In 2015, the university stopped flying the state flag over our campus. Mississippi needs a flag that represents the qualities about our state that unite us, not those that still divide us. We support the SEC’s position for changing the Mississippi state flag to an image that is more welcoming and inclusive for all people.”

State Senate Democrats filed a resolution last week that would allow the Senate to bring up legislation pertaining to changing the state flag. Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hoseman placed the resolution in the Senate Constitution Committee, which could cause it to never be addressed.

Mississippi lawmakers also gave their thoughts on Sankey’s comments, including Republican Representative Trey Lamar out of Senatobia, who tweeted that it is time for change on Thursday.

“A flag’s sole purpose is to unite a people around a common cause. Reality has proven clear that the Mississippi flag no longer unites, but divides us unnecessarily,” Lamar tweeted. “I will not sit idly by while our college athletes lose their hard earned right to compete in postseason play before our home state fans over a banner that no longer accomplishes its sole mission to truly unify our people. I will stand up for our student athletes. It is time to change the flag. It is the right thing to do.”

The SEC was not the only conference to cause issues with Mississippi hosting championships due to the flag. Conference-USA commissioner Judy MacLeod also issued a statement on Thursday stating the conference’s Board of Directors pledged to “conduct a process to review” their championship policies to ensure their student-athletes are in environments that align with the conference’s mission to support and protect them.

Biloxi and Hattiesburg have hosted Conference-USA’s baseball championships.