SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said Thursday the league will reconsider hosting any conference championship events in Mississippi if the state does not change its flag, which includes a confederate emblem in its design.
"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 welcome 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 state flag is changed."
The statement comes as Mississippi state lawmakers have restarted the debate with legislative efforts to change the flag. Gov. Tate Reeves has not supported these efforts, falling back on his previously stated stance that any changes to the state flag should come by statewide election. Residents in the state of Mississippi last voted on the flag in 2001, choosing to keep the confederate emblem.
Mississippi State's president Mark Keenum offered a response to Sankey's statement shortly after it was released. Keenum has been an advocate of changing the flag, with the support of the student association and faculty senate, since 2015, and wrote to the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the Mississippi House to "reaffirm that support."
"I have great respect for Commissioner Greg Sankey, and I understand why he has taken this position regarding Mississippi's state flag," Keenum said. "Clearly the current national climate is such that this debate may produce unintended consequences for our student athletes here at Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi. There may be similar unintended consequences for academic pursuits at all our state's public universities and negative economic impacts on the state's communities as well."
Ole Miss added a statement as well, noting that the school stopped flying the state flag over campus in 2015 and offered the school's support for the SEC's decision.
The SEC football championship is held annually in Atlanta and the men's basketball championship is committed to all but one year between now and 2030 in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2022, the SEC men's basketball tournament is scheduled for Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. The women's basketball tournament is without a host site for 2023-2025 after stops in Greenville, South Carolina and Nashville the next two years. The state of Mississippi has hosted portions of the baseball championships a combined seven times between Starkville (5) and Oxford (2) before the tournament took up residence in Hoover, Alabama in 1998.