Luke DeCock

Clock running out on HB2 repeal to save NCAA events – DeCock

Time’s up.

By the end of next week, it will be too late.

If House Bill 2 isn’t repealed in the next 12 days, while the North Carolina General Assembly is in session, the NCAA is going to extend its ban on events in North Carolina for another five years. The ACC will follow. And so will countless amateur and youth sporting organizations.

The letter the N.C. Sports Association sent legislators on Monday spells it out in brutal detail. The NCAA’s individual sports committees will, over the next 7-10 days, convene to begin their final deliberations about event sites for the 2018-19 through 2021-22 academic years. Those decisions will come at the end of the month. They have been instructed to exclude all 133 of North Carolina’s bids from consideration if HB2 is still on the books.

Once the state is out of the running for those four years, the NCAA will act quickly to pull next year’s events from the state, including the NCAA basketball first and second rounds set for Charlotte.

Having already moved the basketball first and second rounds from Greensboro this March to Greenville, S.C., along with a dozen other events this fall, winter and spring, the NCAA is prepared to turn its back on North Carolina altogether. And others will follow, just as the NCAA followed the NBA’s decision to move its 2017 All-Star Game to New Orleans.

The ACC already pulled its neutral-site championships from North Carolina for this year. By the time the conference has its spring meetings in May, there will be plans in place to move the 2019 and 2020 ACC basketball tournaments from Charlotte and Greensboro, respectively. If nothing happens now, those decisions will be a foregone conclusion by then.

In December, MLS commissioner Don Garber said that HB2 “will be a factor with other factors we have to consider.” That was before two of the 12 expansion bids turned out to be from North Carolina, and now that the process is under way, it remains unclear what impact HB2 could have. An MLS spokesman did not immediately return a request for clarification.

And there’s a long list of organizations that already simply won’t come here any more, from US Lacrosse to US Figure Skating (which brought its championships, a massive event, to Greensboro in 2011 and 2015) to USA Rugby to USA Ultimate to the group that oversees college club sports. The Big East wouldn’t even give North Carolina sites the information to submit bids for its baseball tournament. That list is only going to get longer.

“As we enter February we’re right on the brink of losing all of our NCAA championships for six consecutive years through spring 2022,” said Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance director Scott Dupree, who wrote the letter on behalf of the NCSA. “If nothing changes, if the HB2 issue is not resolved in some way in the next two weeks, our worst-case scenario will become reality. North Carolina will no longer be in the business of hosting NCAA basketball – or any NCAA championships.”

There are countless reasons, better reasons, to repeal HB2, even for those who support the law in principle. But nothing has broken the political deadlock, not a change of parties in the governor’s office, not even a repeal deal that failed in a special session in December – a special session called specifically to repeal HB2.

Sports is a useful lever here, a political neutral zone that offers the potential to meet on common ground, potential cover for legislators afraid of provoking their base by voting to repeal HB2.

Perhaps the threat of six years without college championships in North Carolina – and the potential loss of hundreds of millions of dollars – is enough to make a deal worth doing.

But it has to be now. There’s no room left for debate or posturing or anything else. The clock’s about to hit zero. North Carolina needs a buzzer-beater.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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