North Carolina is again eligible for ACC postseason events now that state lawmakers have replaced the controversial law known as House Bill 2, the conference announced on Friday.
In response to the legislature passing HB2 last year, the Greensboro-based college-sports conference in September pulled 10 neutral-site championships for the 2016-17 season – including a baseball tournament at Durham Bulls Athletic Park and several events in Cary.
Lawmakers repealed HB2 Thursday as part of a bipartisan compromise. Some critics of the compromise law, however, say it doesn’t go far enough to prevent discrimination against LGBT people.
The new law eliminates a requirement in HB2 that people in public schools, universities and other government facilities use the bathroom corresponding with the gender on their birth certificate. But it keeps, in modified form, restrictions on anti-discrimination ordinances in cities and counties.
“This compromise was a first step to repairing our state’s reputation and economy, and it’s encouraging to see the ACC put North Carolina back on its list,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.
Margaret Spellings, president of the UNC system, thanked the ACC’s governing body in a statement.
“This is a great week for the state’s student athletes, coaches, and sports fan – indeed all North Carolinians,” Spellings said. “We commend and thank the ACC governing body for their leadership and look forward to hosting events in the months and years to come.”
With the ACC’s announcement, the football title game will return to Charlotte in December while the women’s basketball tournament will return to Greensboro after a one-year stop in South Carolina. The men’s basketball tournament was already slated for the second year in a two-year stay in Brooklyn, New York, before returning to North Carolina in 2019 (Charlotte) and 2020 (Greensboro).
It’s unclear how the ACC’s announcement stands to affect the Triangle in the immediate future.
Cary has been a frequent host of ACC tennis, soccer and cross-country championships. In all, the town has hosted 33 ACC championships.
The ACC’s announcement came as a surprise to Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht on Friday afternoon.
“That’s exciting news. I think with our venues, that’s very positive for us,” Weinbrecht said. “I expect we should start seeing championships in Cary again very soon.”
The ACC last year relocated the men’s and women’s cross-country championships set for WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary in October and the women’s soccer championship at the soccer park in November. The conference also relocated men’s and women’s tennis championships, set for April 26 to 30 of this year, from Cary.
Cary also lost NCAA championship events over the HB2 controversy. The NCAA hasn’t yet announced whether the compromise is enough to persuade the organization to locate future championships in North Carolina. Some opponents of the new law are asking the NCAA to continue its boycott.
Losing those events cost Cary about $500,000 in direct spending alone, according to town estimates. Town officials on Friday were still waiting to hear what they needed to do to bring the events back to Cary, said Doug McRainey, the parks and recreation director.
“There’s nothing automatic, but I don’t know if we’ll need to reapply,” McRainey said. “We’re very excited and very hopeful.”
He doubted Cary could reclaim the tennis championships scheduled for late April.
“I think it’s set for this year, so if everything came together it would probably be next year,” McRainey said.
But Weinbrecht was hopeful. Weinbrecht said the Cary Tennis Park, on Louis Stephens Drive, once prepared for a professional tournament with only two months notice. The town is eager to make up for the millions of dollars in economic losses it sustained after HB2, he said.
“They could do it,” Weinbrecht said. “But I imagine it would be a scramble.”
Lew Ebert, president and CEO of the N.C. Chamber, sent a letter Friday to ACC Commissioner John Swofford. Ebert wrote that “North Carolina is open for business” and that “we look forward to welcoming you, your members, your sponsors and your fans back to the Tar Heel State to enjoy the full benefit of North Carolina hospitality.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.