The controversy over national anthem protests that has engulfed the NFL continued its spread into other sports Friday, as the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) moved its 2018 DII basketball championship tournament because the host school requires players to stand for the anthem.
The College of the Ozarks, located near Branson, Mo., has a “No Pledge, No Play," policy regarding the anthem, and requested the NAIA adopt a rule requiring all participants stand for the anthem.
Instead, the association and the college agreed to move the 2018 NAIA DII Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament to another host site. Branson had hosted the tournament for the past 18 years.
In a statement, NAIA President Jim Carr said the NAIA encourages everyone to stand for the anthem, but the NAIA also recognizes that those who don't stand are exercising their rights to free speech.
“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," Carr said. "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 NAIA believes the playing of the anthem provides student-athletes and fans an important and time-honored tradition to honor our country and veterans. The association encourages everyone in attendance to stand when the anthem is played.
"The NAIA also understands that the freedom of speech -— and the right to peaceful protest — are indisputable rights in the United States. 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 2018 host site for the tournament has not been announced. James Naismith founded the NAIA national championship in 1937 to serve smaller colleges and universities. Union (Ky.) College won the 2017 championship.