The Atlantic Coast Conference would consider keeping future championship events out of North Carolina if the state’s controversial “bathroom bill” isn’t repealed, league commissioner John Swofford said Thursday.
“Obviously, it’s playing out in ways that I guess none of us have envisioned,” Swofford said of North Carolina’s House Bill 2, or HB2, a law that prevents transgender people from using bathrooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify. “So I think a lot of us are dealing with something we’ve never dealt with before. But it could (keep events out of North Carolina).
“We’ll have to see what the end point is. What’s the end result of all this?”
Swofford, speaking at the conclusion of the ACC’s annual spring meetings, said the league isn’t considering pulling currently scheduled ACC championships out of North Carolina. The state’s HB2 law, though, could affect whether events that have not yet been scheduled wind up in the state.
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The question of the “end result,” as Swofford put it, surrounds HB2, which has created a national firestorm of controversy and condemnation. Critics of the law, which has resulted in numerous lawsuits, say it’s discriminatory against the LGBT community.
Since lawmakers passed HB2 in March, several prominent entertainers, including Bruce Springsteen and the band Pearl Jam, have canceled events in North Carolina. The NBA is considering pulling its 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte.
Now the ACC, which is based in Greensboro, is faced with questions about how HB2 will affect its championships and events in North Carolina. The league’s football championship game has found an annual home in Charlotte, and it’s contracted to be there through 2019.
The ACC men’s basketball tournament will be held in Brooklyn, N.Y., the next two seasons but will be back in North Carolina, its unofficial home, in 2019. Several other ACC championships are also frequently held in the state.
In light of HB2, the ACC has adopted the same policy that the NCAA recently created, which requires host cities and venues of championships and events to provide the ACC with “commitments to provide safe and inclusive environments.”
Without such an assurance, it appears that cities and venues could losethe chance to host ACC events. Asked if the ACC was considering moving currently scheduled championships from North Carolina, Swofford said, “Not at this point.”
ACC events that have already been placed in North Carolina include the football championship game, the baseball tournament, which begins later this month at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and the women’s basketball tournament that’s scheduled to be held at the Greensboro Coliseum through 2022.
Swofford and league officials, including athletics directors, faculty athletic representatives and senior women administrators, discussed HB2 throughout the spring meetings, which began on Monday and end Thursday. Student-athlete representatives also met with conference leadership to discuss HB2.
Ezra Baeli-Wang, a rising senior on North Carolina’s fencing team, was among the members of the ACC’s Student-Athlete Advisory Council who met with conference officials during the spring meetings. He said HB2 represented an important issue for athletes in the conference.
“I certainly don’t think that any of us are underestimating its potential impact in any area,” Baeli-Wang said. “I think that athletics – we understand the gravity of the situation. I have faith that the conference cares about its student-athletes.”
Asked if he felt a burden of responsibility to speak out against HB2, or to put pressure on lawmakers, Swofford said, “No, not really.”
“We’re going to do what we think is best in the context of who we are as a major college conference,” he said. “And we’re absolutely – and have been, and still are and always will be – dedicated to all the things that we’ve said before (about equality).
“Ultimately, we’re not going to take championships anywhere where we can’t be assured that’s respected. And that the people coming to our events are respected and treated fairly and treated well. That’s absolutely critical to this conference.”
Not long after Swofford began addressing reporters, the ACC released a statement in which it reaffirmed its commitment to “equality, diversity and inclusion.”
“Discrimination in any form has no place in higher education and college athletics,” the statement read, “and the safe and respectful treatment of all student-athletes, coaches and fans, regardless of gender, will continue to be a priority.”
For now, though, the ACC championships and events that are scheduled to be in North Carolina will remain – as long as those hosts provide the ACC with an assurance, Swofford said, “of fairness and nondiscrimination in every respect.”
Like many, though, Swofford and other league officials are waiting to see what happens with HB2 – whether it remains a law or whether it’s repealed or amended in some way. Until then, questions will remain about how the law might affect unscheduled ACC championships.