With a bipartisan replacement for House Bill 2 signed into law, LGBT groups and other opponents of the compromise have shifted their lobbying efforts to the NCAA. They’re making the case that the new law isn’t good enough to let North Carolina host championships again.
NCAA president Mark Emmert said Thursday evening that the organization hasn’t yet decided if the HB2 replacement adequately addresses its concerns. That decision will likely happen when the NCAA Board of Governors meets in the coming days.
The replacement law repeals HB2 but prevents local governments from passing certain nondiscrimination ordinances until 2020. Furthermore, it says that only state government can set policies for transgender access to public bathrooms and locker rooms – and there’s now no state guidance on the issue.
The N.C. NAACP and LGBT advocacy groups – Human Rights Campaign, Equality North Carolina and the National Center for Transgender Equality – sent a letter to NCAA officials asking them to keep the sports ban in place.
“We call on the NCAA to oppose this shameful HB2.0 bill in North Carolina, and not to reward lawmakers who have passed this so-called ‘deal’ which is an affront to the values we all hold,” the letter said. “This bill is anti-worker, anti-access to the courts, and anti-LGBTQ. It violates all basic principles of diversity, inclusion and basic civil rights.”
While the NCAA hasn’t made a decision, Gov. Roy Cooper voiced certainty Thursday that the replacement law will bring back major sporting events. He had told legislative Democrats that NCAA officials were consulted to make sure the deal addressed their concerns.
“Sports are coming back,” he said at a news conference Thursday. “The ticket takers, the housekeeping staff and parking attendants working at arenas around our state will have more money in their pockets.”
Emmert, however, was less certain. “There were four distinct problems that the board had with that bill,” he said, referring to HB2. “They’ve removed some of those now but not, as you point out, not all of them. And the question the board will be debating: If you remove two or three of them, is that enough, relative to other states?”
Equality North Carolina’s Chris Sgro argues that the HB2 replacement is not enough.
“I think that the NCAA is doing the right thing in evaluating the law,” he said Friday. “I think it potentially somewhat addresses some of their points. I don’t think it completely addresses any of their points, and I think it creates new points. It really is just doubling down on the same message.”
So what were the four concerns the NCAA had about HB2 when it moved sports championship events out of North Carolina last year? One was that it overturned local nondiscrimination ordinances – something that the replacement law won’t allow again until December 2020.
Another NCAA concern was the HB2 provision that required transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate.
North Carolina was the only state in the country with such a law, and the replacement bill removes it. The state now joins 48 others with no specific bathroom access laws, but local governments, schools and universities still can’t set their own policies on the issue.
The NCAA decision was also based on logistical concerns, because five states have banned government-funded travel – including travel by college sports teams – to North Carolina over HB2.
Washington state’s ban automatically ended because it only applied while HB2 was in effect “in its current form.” Four other states have not announced any changes to their travel ban as of Friday.
The fourth reason the NCAA cited for blacklisting North Carolina didn’t relate to HB2. It noted that the state “provides legal protections for government officials to refuse services to the LGBT community,” a reference to a 2015 law allowing magistrates to opt out of performing marriages if they had a religious objection to same-sex marriage. That law was not changed this week.
Deadline pressure from the NCAA – a leading sports event recruiter said Tuesday that the legislature needed to act within 48 hours – helped speed passage of the HB2 replacement, lawmakers said. Without action, North Carolina would not have any chance of hosting championship events through 2022.
“If we had not passed something this week, the momentum and pressure would have died down with the loss of the NCAA events,” House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson said. “This wasn’t about basketball, but the threatened loss of that, that’s what got people to the table to talk about things.”
North Carolina venues have submitted 133 bids for NCAA championship events between 2018 and 2022. According to the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, those events have a potential economic impact of at least $250 million.
Venues in Wake County make up 57 of those bids and cover 14 sports, including proposals to host the NCAA men’s basketball tournament at PNC Arena, track and field championships at St. Augustine’s University, golf championships at N.C. State, and baseball and softball championships in Cary. The NCAA has said it will announce winning bids on April 18.
William Barber, president of the N.C. chapter of the NAACP, said he’s concerned that lawmakers rushed flawed legislation in order to meet the NCAA deadline.
“It shouldn’t be about a deadline of NCAA, it should be about upholding people’s fundamental rights,” Barber said Friday. His group wants a full repeal of HB2, and he said the national NAACP’s economic boycott of North Carolina – which was prompted by issues beyond HB2 – will continue.
“We certainly hope that the NCAA, the NBA and any others will keep the pressure on North Carolina,” he added. “We’re not going for the bait and switch.”
The pressure on the NCAA has expanded beyond North Carolina. On Friday, a national LGBT advocacy group called Believe Out Loud launched an online petition calling on the NCAA to “stand firm and continue to withhold championship games from North Carolina.” And a group called Athlete Ally asked its supporters to call the NCAA “to remind them that championships don’t belong in states where discrimination is law.”
Sports columnist Luke DeCock contributed to this report