The NAIA said Friday it was moving its Division II men’s basketball postseason tournament from Branson, Missouri.
College of the Ozarks, the tournament’s host for the past 18 years, announced a “No Pledge, No Play” initiative in September. The rule requires its coaches and players to stand for the national anthem before games and the school even said it would refuse to play any game if any of the opponent’s players or coaches did not stand as well.
As a result of the rule, enacted in light of protests of racial and social injustice by NFL players, the NAIA is looking for a new place for its second-division tournament.
“The NAIA respects the rights of all our members to determine the best course of action for their teams in regards to the national anthem,” NAIA President Jim Carr said in a statement. “However, our first priority is providing student-athletes the best event possible and neither the NAIA nor the College of the Ozarks want this issue to disrupt the competition or diminish the student-athlete experience.”
The small-college sanctioning body said it had “multiple meetings” regarding the College of the Ozarks’ new rule and also noted the school asked the NAIA to make standing for the national anthem a requirement.
The NAIA was, quite understandably, not willing to go there. College of the Ozarks is a private Christian school located just south of Branson in Point Lookout, Missouri.
“The NAIA also understands that the freedom of speech — and the right to peaceful protest — are indisputable rights in the United States,” the statement said. “Because the NAIA is made up of 250 diverse schools, the association believes it is in the best interest of the institutions to let them individually decide what actions are acceptable for their coaches and student-athletes.”
The president of the school told the Kansas City Star in September that no players from the school protested during the national anthem and sat or taken a knee before the rule was put in place. Jerry Davis said “we’re living in a culture that doesn’t know right from wrong anymore” and said the school would rather forfeit a game than its honor.
In this case, it is forfeiting an entire tournament, which will likely cost the local economy thousands of dollars.
“We wanted to be clear about our expectations,” Davis said a month ago. “We’re trying to avoid trouble, not look for it. But if people don’t want to sign our agreement, I’d rather forfeit a game than forfeit our honor.”
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