If Gov. Pat McCrory and the North Carolina legislators who have failed to repeal or otherwise fix House Bill 2 didn’t see this one coming, they just weren’t paying attention.
The NCAA made it explicitly clear at the Final Four that if there weren’t changes to HB2, the state was at risk of losing NCAA events, including the basketball tournament. Less than six months later, the NCAA showed just how serious it was.
Instead of skipping North Carolina in the next bid cycle, the NCAA pulled events from the state immediately – including the beloved first and second rounds of the men’s basketball tournament in Greensboro in March.
McCrory and the legislators were warned. They chose a narrow-minded bathroom bill over basketball (among other, more important principles). The NCAA never blinked. It wasn’t waiting for the election in November. It had enough of this nonsense right now.
Having already lost the 2017 NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte because of HB2, North Carolina took it in the basketball solar-plexus again, and in doing so, deprived Duke and North Carolina of a pretty good chance to start the tournament close to home, in front of their fans (and where the Tar Heels are 33-1 in the tournament).
Not only is the damage immediate, in terms of opportunities lost and dollars unspent within these borders, but it has the potential to linger. Events for 2017-18, including the first and second rounds of men’s basketball in Charlotte, are probably safe until this time next year. But the NCAA is also in the middle of a bid cycle for events running from 2019-22. If it’s willing to pull events from North Carolina with less than three months of warning, there’s no chance it’s giving out any new ones.
The NCAA was supposed to announce those sites in December. It announced Monday night it would push that deadline back indefinitely, presumably to give North Carolina a chance to get its act together. But the danger is there: If HB2 is still on the books when the NCAA decides on those bids, basketball – and everything else – is going to be shut out for four years. And once that decision comes down, repealing HB2 won’t change anything until 2023.
Cary was particularly hurt by this, losing four important events. It had tried for a long time to host the Division I women’s lacrosse championship. Gone. It had hosted the Division II baseball tournament since 2009 to rave reviews. Gone. Also gone are the women’s soccer College Cup – back in Cary for what would have been the eighth time – and the Division III men’s and women’s tennis championships.
And why? Over partisan politics, a silly law that doesn’t even have any enforcement provisions and serves only to sanction government discrimination against the LGBT community. Just how partisan and silly? A statement from the North Carolina Republican Party actually included this line: “I wish the NCAA was this concerned about the women who were raped at Baylor.”
The ACC should have followed the NBA’s lead in July but has been curiously passive, more concerned about ruffling political feathers in its home state than protecting the rights of its athletes and students of its member schools. Late Monday night that changed, with ACC commissioner John Swofford issuing a statement strongly denouncing HB2, declaring that the matter would be taken up at a meeting of presidents this week and, for the first time, taking a decisive personal stance.
“On a personal note,” Swofford said in his statement, “it’s time for this bill to be repealed as it’s counter to basic human rights.”
The ACC has come late to this awakening. But not too late.
There are a lot of things the NCAA gets wrong. There’s no reason why an Olympic medalist should be allowed to keep hundreds of thousands of dollars in medal bonuses when a Charleston Southern football player gets suspended for spending his excess book money on school supplies in the school bookstore. It clings to “the amateur ideal” as a billion-dollar business. Its enforcement of its own complex, arcane rules is arbitrary and erratic (arguably, the only thing left about the NCAA that’s truly amateur). And so on.
Once in a while, though, it uses its considerable muscle for good. It took a stand against the Confederate flag in South Carolina and Mississippi. It took a stand against Indiana’s anti-LGBT law, getting it amended in days ahead of the 2014 Final Four. And it is taking a stand here, on behalf of its LGBT athletes, fans and anyone else who might feel unwelcome in North Carolina because of HB2.
It used to be basketball and barbecue were the two areas where North Carolinians shared common ground regardless of politics. Now we’re down to barbecue.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock