ACC sports are as much a part of North Carolina culture as beach music, barbeque and bluegrass, but the college sports conference on Wednesday became the latest in a growing line of organizations to turn its back on the state in protest of North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2.
Two days after the NCAA pulled its championships out of North Carolina because of House Bill 2, better known as HB2, the ACC followed and announced it would move the 10 neutral-site championships it had scheduled in the state during the 2016-17 academic year.
That includes the football championship game, which had been scheduled for Dec. 3 in Charlotte. It was unclear on Wednesday where that game and other affected championships would be played.
The ACC announced the decision after its Council of Presidents concluded previously-scheduled meetings in Clemson, S.C. ACC Commissioner John Swofford said earlier this week that HB2 would be on the agenda during the presidents’ meeting.
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“The ACC Council of Presidents made it clear that the core values of this league are of the utmost importance, and the opposition to any form of discrimination is paramount,” Swofford said in a statement on Wednesday.
In addition to football, the other ACC championships that are being relocated are women’s basketball, women’s soccer, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s golf, men’s golf and baseball.
Three of those had been scheduled for venues in the Triangle: the women’s soccer championship and mens’ and women’s tennis championships in Cary, and the baseball tournament at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Swofford in a statement earlier in the week called for the repeal of HB2. The law, which Gov. Pat McCrory signed last March, limits anti-discriminatory protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
A more publicized part of the law stipulates which bathrooms transgender people can use. On state property, the law mandates that people use the bathroom for the gender specified on their birth certificate.
Critics of HB2, which has become a central focus of a fierce gubernatorial race between McCrory and Democratic challenger Roy Cooper, say it’s discriminatory. Proponents of HB2 say it protects bathroom privacy.
“On a personal note,” Swofford said in a statement earlier this week, “it’s time for this bill to be repealed as it’s counter to basic human rights.”
Cooper, whom polls show as the leader in the governor’s race, used the ACC’s announcement as an opportunity to call for the immediate repeal of HB2. He released a video statement in which he admonished the law and spoke of its adverse economic impact.
“It’s clear we cannot wait until November to repeal House Bill 2,” Cooper said. “... The news this week made it clear that there is no end in sight to the losses we’ll face unless this law is repealed.”
Later in the day McCrory released a statement of his own in which referenced the ongoing legal battle over HB2.
“The issue of redefining gender and basic norms of privacy will be resolved in the near future in the United States court system for not only North Carolina, but the entire nation,” he said.
Pulling out of N.C.
The ACC joins a long, growing line of entertainers, business organizations and sports leagues that have pulled events out of North Carolina in protest of HB2. Several high-profile entertainers, including Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam, have canceled shows in the state.
The NBA moved its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans. The NCAA is moving seven championship events, including first- and second-round NCAA men’s basketball tournament games that had been scheduled for Greensboro, from the state.
And now the ACC, based in Greensboro, is doing the same. The ACC’s decision affects all neutral-site championship events that had been scheduled in North Carolina. Championships that had been scheduled to take place at a North Carolina ACC school aren’t affected.
In explaining the rationale, the ACC Council of Presidents in a statement reiterated the conference’s “collective commitment to uphold the values of equality, diversity, inclusion and non-discrimination.”
“Every one of our 15 universities is strongly committed to these values,” the council said in a statement, “and therefore, we will continue to host ACC Championships at campus sites.”
All four ACC schools in North Carolina will host championships that had been scheduled for their campuses: Field hockey at Wake Forest, men’s and women’s fencing at Duke, wrestling at N.C. State and softball at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Change in plans
For months, Swofford and league officials had criticized HB2. Before Wednesday, though, they had remained non-committal about its potential affect on the ACC, and its ability to schedule events in North Carolina.
As recently as July, on the day news broke that the NBA was moving its all-star game from Charlotte, Swofford said that ACC championships scheduled in North Carolina during this academic year would go on as planned. He referenced the league’s fall meetings in October as another checkpoint.
“Depending on what’s happened at that point in time,” Swofford said in July, “I’m sure our schools will want to have some further discussion about it.”
It didn’t take that long. The ACC pulled championships out of North Carolina two days after the NCAA did the same. In a joint statement they released on Wednesday, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson applauded the conference’s decision.
“We appreciate the Council of Presidents’ reaffirmation of the ACC’s strong commitment to diversity and inclusion,” they said, “as well as the decision to keep ACC championship contests on our campuses.
“However, we regret today’s decision will negatively affect many North Carolinians, especially in the affected host communities. UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State remain steadfast in our commitment to welcoming and supporting all people.”
North Carolina serves as the literal headquarters for the ACC, and the figurative headquarters for its most high-profile events. The ACC men’s basketball tournament, which had been previously scheduled to be in Brooklyn the next two seasons, has been played in North Carolina 51 times.
The football championship game, in existence since 2005, floundered in Florida before finding an unofficial home in Charlotte in 2010. The women’s basketball tournament, meanwhile, has been in Greensboro the past 17 consecutive seasons.
And so ACC’s decision to remove championships wasn’t made lightly. Before the conference reached its decision, the conversation among its presidents had been “constructive, wide-ranging and vigorous,” Clemson president James P. Clements, the chair of the ACC Council of Presidents, said in a statement.
“The decision to move the neutral site championships out of North Carolina while HB2 remains the law was not an easy one,” he said, “but it is consistent with the shared values of inclusion and non-discrimination at all of our institutions.”
The council met on Tuesday and Wednesday and voted on Wednesday on whether to move the league’s neutral-site championships out of North Carolina during this academic year. The vote among the league’s 15 school presidents required a simple majority.
The loss of ACC championships will cost the state millions of dollars in revenue. The football championship game had an economic impact of $32.4 million last year, in Charlotte, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. The game had been under contract to be played at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium through 2019.
On a smaller scale, the Town of Cary, hit hard by the NCAA’s decision earlier in the week, received a financial blow with the ACC’s announcement on Wednesday. Cary, which has hosted 33 ACC championships across several sports, had been set to host the ACC Women’s Soccer Championship on Nov. 4 and 6 and the ACC Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships April 26-30 in 2017.
Those two events would have generated nearly $500,000 in revenue for Cary, according to the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance.
Harold Weinbrecht, the Cary mayor, released a statement on Wednesday in which he discussed his frustrations with HB2 and its economic affect on its town.
“Enough already,” he said.
Later, he wrote letters to Swofford and NCAA President Mark Emmert arguing that Cary would continue to provide an “inclusive and respectful” environment so that events might return. For now, though, those events appear to be lost indefinitely.
Weinbrecht wasn’t alone in his discontentment. Scott Dupree, the executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, described this week as “unprecedented and historically bad” for the North Carolina sports industry.
“Once the NCAA made its announcement on Monday, this ACC decision was inevitable,” Dupree said in a statement.
The ACC’s decision affects events only in this academic year. As long as HB2 remains in effect, though, it appears unlikely that the conference would schedule neutral-site championships in the state it calls home.
“Hopefully,” Swofford said, “there will be opportunities beyond 2016-17 for North Carolina neutral sites to be awarded championships.”
Staff writers Kathryn Trogdon and Jessica Banov, and Katherine Peralta of the Charlotte Observer, contributed to this story.
What’s leaving North Carolina
▪ Women’s soccer, WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, Nov. 4 and 6
▪ Football, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, Dec. 3
▪ Women’s swimming & and diving and men’s Diving, Greensboro Aquatic Center, Feb. 15-18
▪ Women’s basketball, Greensboro Coliseum, March 1-5
▪ Women’s golf, Sedgefield Country Club, Greensboro, April 21-23
▪ Men’s golf, Old North State Club, New London, April 21-23
▪ Men’s & and women’s tennis, Cary Tennis Park, Cary, April 26-30
▪ Baseball, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, May 23-28
▪ 2016 Division I women’s soccer championship, WakeMedSoccer Park, Dec. 2 and 4
▪ 2016 Division III men’s and women’s soccer championships, Greensboro, Dec. 2 and 3
▪ 2017 Division I men’s basketball tournament first and second round games, Greensboro Coliseum, March 17 and 19
▪ 2017 Division I women’s golf championships regional, Greenville, May 8-10
▪ 2017 Division III men’s and women’s tennis championships, Cary, May 22-27
▪ 2017 Division I women’s lacrosse championship, Cary, May 26 and 28
▪ 2017 Division II baseball championship, Cary, May 27-June 3