State Politics

HB2 could soon cost NC six years of NCAA championship events, sports group says

The NCAA could soon block its college sports championships from being held in North Carolina through 2022 if House Bill 2 is not repealed, according to a letter sent to state legislators Monday by the N.C. Sports Association.

“Our contacts at the NCAA tell us that, due to their stance on HB2, all North Carolina bids will be pulled from the review process and removed from consideration,” Scott Dupree, of the N.C. Sports Association and Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, wrote.

“That process will begin in the various sports committees starting in 7 to 10 days and continuing through February. At that point, we will be faced with a six-year drought of NCAA championships in North Carolina.”

The NCAA has already relocated championships for the current academic year to other states due to concerns that the law is discriminatory. HB2 struck down local nondiscrimination ordinances and requires transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate while they are in schools and other government facilities. Supporters say it maintains privacy and safety in bathrooms and locker rooms. The legislature passed the law in March, blocking a local anti-discrimination law in Charlotte from taking effect.

Dupree wrote that his “letter is not intended to be political in any way, but rather objective and fact-based, so that all interested parties will have a clear understanding of what’s at stake.”

“In a matter of days, our state’s sports tourism industry will suffer crushing, long-term losses and will essentially close its doors to NCAA business,” the letter continues. “Our window to act is closing rapidly.”

An NCAA spokeswoman issued a brief statement Monday in response to questions about the Sports Association’s letter. It said the organization “has not yet determined future championship sites” and “expects to announce site selections for the 2018-19 through 2021-22 championship seasons in April.”

Lawmakers are hearing from both sides. LGBT rights advocates renewed their calls for repeal Monday, including a news release from the Human Rights Campaign and Equality NC blasting what they called a “deeply discriminatory law.” The conservative N.C. Values Coalition, which has been a strong supporter of HB2, urged lawmakers to resist the economic pressure and keep the law unchanged.

“These sports organizations owe the citizens of North Carolina an apology for advocating that sports games are more important than privacy and safety,” Values Coalition executive director Tami Fitzgerald said Monday. “Any type of repeal effort would be ill-advised.”

The N.C. Sports Association includes groups across the state that recruit and promote major sporting events. The association’s members have been involved in some of the 133 NCAA championship bids submitted for events between 2018 and 2022. Dupree notes that 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, according to the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance. They include 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.

Dupree says other sports leagues could join the NCAA in bypassing North Carolina.

“When the NCAA decides it will no longer conduct events in North Carolina, the Atlantic Coast Conference and many other sports organizations will surely follow,” he wrote. “When compounding the effect of losing these additional sporting events, including hundreds of youth and amateur events, plus the NBA All-Star Game, we believe North Carolina could lose upwards of a half-billion dollars in economic impact.”

The NCAA’s decision in September to move championships this year affected seven events, including the first and second rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in Greensboro, which will now be played in Greenville, S.C.

The ACC followed a few weeks later and announced it would move 10 neutral-site championships scheduled in North Carolina during the 2016-17 academic year. The NBA also pulled its All-Star Game from Charlotte in response to HB2.

The legislature held a special session in December to repeal HB2, but the effort died on the Senate floor. Republican leaders had included a moratorium on local governments passing nondiscrimination ordinances similar to the one in Charlotte that prompted HB2. That provision prompted Democrats to vote against the measure, and they were joined by a number of Republicans who didn’t want any change to HB2.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican who’d previously worked on an unsuccessful HB2 compromise, said he and other legislative leaders were already aware of the NCAA’s timeline.

“If we’re going to take action, it would be a shame to take action at a date that was too late to deal with the economic sanctions,” McGrady said Monday. “Maybe it (the letter) will give some a sense of urgency.”

McGrady said he’s aware of discussions about a possible compromise, but “you’ve got to develop some trust before you can compromise on issues like this. ... I would say I don’t think the votes are there for a straight repeal without anything else.”

New Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper repeated his call for a vote on a no-strings-attached repeal Monday. “The NCAA news means there is no time to waste in repealing House Bill 2,” he said in a written statement. “The bipartisan votes of both Democrats and Republicans are there for repeal if the Republican legislative leadership will just put it to a vote.”

Senate leader Phil Berger issued a statement Monday that said HB2 “would have been long gone if Gov. Cooper had not directed all Senate Democrats to block its repeal, and he is going to have to work toward a compromise that keeps women from being forced to share bathrooms and shower facilities with men to move past this distraction.”

During December’s special session, Cooper encouraged Democrats to vote against the Senate proposal because, he argued, the moratorium provision would have effectively kept parts of HB2 intact.

Berger was referring to concerns among HB2 supporters that the law is needed to prevent sexual predators from using transgender protections to enter bathrooms of the opposite sex. HB2 opponents say existing laws would prevent that from happening.

House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson called for action in response to the Sports Association’s letter. “It’s time for NC businesses to speak up and tell #ncga leadership to allow a vote,” he tweeted Monday. “Just allow a vote on a clean repeal. ... I’m sure we can #RepealHB2 in a week.”

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