Differing views on national anthem protests causes NAIA to relocate 2018 title game of out Branson

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The NAIA will relocate the Division II Men’s Basketball Championships out of Branson, Missouri after differing opinions on national anthem protests divided members of the organization.

According to a release from the NAIA, the organization and the College of the Ozarks mutually agreed to move the DII championships out of Branson, Missouri — where the championships have been held the last 18 years — after the College of the Ozarks’ “No Pledge, No Play” policy became an issue.

The “No Pledge, No Play” policy not only bans College of the Ozarks student-athletes from participating if they partake in a national anthem protest, but the school also refuses to compete against any other school that allows for that sort of protest.

“We want to make it clear that we are not going to participate in a game where we think disrespect for the national anthem or the flag is being displayed,” College of the Ozarks’ President Jerry Davis told the Kansas City Star earlier this week. “I don’t think it’s a partisan issue. It’s an American issue, how we feel about our country.”

While the NAIA respects the College of the Ozarks having a rule based around the national anthem, the school wanted to expand the rule to include all 250 NAIA member schools — something that the NAIA was not comfortable with.

“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 the release. “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.”

In the official release announcing the move out of Branson, the NAIA also encouraged everybody to stand during the playing of the national anthem. Later in the release, the NAIA also maintained that protecting the right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech are “indisputable rights in the United States.”

The timing of this championship relocation announcement is a bit awkward for the NAIA since the organization awarded the College of the Ozarks for hosting the “Best NAIA Student-Athlete Championship Experience Event” back in August. The College of the Ozarks, and town of Branson, have been known to do a great job hosting the 32-team event during the past 18 years, so it will be fascinating to see if the NAIA can find a new championship atmosphere that can match the popular previous destination.

The College of the Ozarks made national news earlier this week as the school is requiring all freshmen to enroll in its “Patriotic Education and Fitness” program. The official course description for the three-credit class reads, “A required general education course designed to encourage an understanding of American heritage, civic responsibilities, love of country, and willingness to defend it.”

“The NAIA missed the opportunity to take a stand,” Davis said in a College of the Ozarks official release. “They refused to craft a simple policy requiring players to stand for the national anthem. The NAIA’s refusal demonstrates a lack of moral clarity on a significant national issue. Their decision contradicts their own character emphasis that identifies respect as a key trait, and we believe they are missing a golden opportunity to teach student-athletes about the honor due our country and its Veterans.

“We appreciate the efforts of the staff to communicate our concerns to the committee,” Davis continued. “Unfortunately, it appears the committee believes a ‘do your own thing’ mentality supersedes patriotism. College of the Ozarks takes seriously its patriotic mission and thus has made the decision to no longer host the tournament.”