The Confederate flag's removal from the South Carolina state capitol in 2015 opened up the possibility of the NCAA men's basketball tournament returning to the state for the first time since 2002.
Now, South Carolina is trying to capitalize on its border state's controversy by bidding for the 2017 first and second round of the men's tournament that was pulled by the NCAA from Greensboro, North Carolina, because of the controversial HB2 law.
On Thursday, Furman athletic director Mike Buddie said on the ESPN/ABC News podcast Capital Games that the school and Southern Conference will formally put in its bid for 2017 for Greenville, South Carolina, on Friday in time for the Tuesday deadline. The NCAA will make a decision on the Greensboro replacement Oct. 7.
Providence College, which hosted the NCAA first and second round last March, told ESPN it was also going to submit a bid. Louisville officials said a decision has not been made yet.
South Carolina's athletic director Ray Tanner announced Wednesday the Gamecocks would not be making a bid for 2017 for their Columbia arena.
Buddie said if Greenville wins the bid, it would "open the flood gate back to the state of South Carolina'' for future hosting opportunities.
Buddie said the school and Southern Conference were originally going to bid for the tournament beginning in 2019-22. But he said they were aware North Carolina could lose the tournament as pressure over HB2 mounted. The NBA moved its All-Star game out of Charlotte in 2017, and in addition to the NCAA, the ACC also announced it would remove any championship events in the state for this academic year. The HB2 law passed by Gov. Pat McCrory effectively prevents transgender people from using a bathroom of their identity, rather than of the gender on their birth certificate.
"We were very aware,'' Buddie said of the possibility that North Carolina could lose the event. Buddie said the committee in the Greenville area met in January 2016 to discuss the bid process, and then in May, the committee traveled to Indianapolis and told the NCAA they would be ready if the games were removed from Greensboro.
"That's when we planted the seed,'' Buddie said.
Rep. Gary Clary, a Republican in the South Carolina state house who represents Clemson and the Greenville area, said there was a similar bill to HB2 discussed in the state legislature but "cooler heads prevailed. It didn't see the light of day. ... Once we took the flag down in 2015, it allowed us to move into the 21st century.''
The NCAA banned championship-sponsored events from being held in South Carolina in 2001. The 2002 NCAA tournament in Greenville was already scheduled. South Carolina teams could earn a postseason hosting berth, but the NCAA didn't award a neutral-site championship due to the Confederate flag. The NCAA announced in July 2015 that the ban was lifted once the flag came down.
Clary said he is hopeful the state of South Carolina and specifically his district can lure the ACC baseball championships, too. He said he knows what North Carolina is feeling being subject to sports being pulled out of the state.
"It's a helpless feeling,'' Clary said. "When you're talking about sports [leaving], it affects business locating here.''
He added that Gov. Nikki Haley, who pushed through the removal of the Confederate flag, wants to bring jobs and business development to the state and "look at the amount of money these events generate.''
Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis, who is the chair of the 2017 NCAA tournament men's basketball tournament, said on the podcast that deciding a new site for March in such a short time frame is unprecedented for the committee.
If the committee chose Greenville to replace Greensboro, then the committee would be able to keep a regional in the same geographic footprint, which would help a potential top seed if Duke or North Carolina were candidates. The committee wants to put the other site in the Eastern time zone. Buffalo is the other first- and second-round host.
Hollis said the committee is open to South Carolina; it would be geographically in an area needed for next season's tournament. But the committee will look at the full breath of candidates, which is still unknown as of Thursday.