Thursday, NCAA president Mark Emmert met with the media for 26 minutes, the vast majority of which was occupied by discussion of the partial repeal of HB2. These are his full comments regarding HB2, including questions from the media.
“I do want to, before I turn to Dan, mention one thing that I know that's been on your mind and that's what's been going on this afternoon in the state of North Carolina. You're obviously all aware that this past year the NCAA board of directors, the 16 university and college presidents that are responsible for overseeing the whole enterprise, passed a resolution to remove all of our tournament events, our predetermined tournament events from North Carolina because of the passage of HB2.
“The state has, as you're well aware, just passed a bill, and the governor just recently signed a bill, repealing HB2 and putting in some other provisions in that law that I don't need to speak to. You're probably well aware of them. The process for us going forward will be as follows: We have worked very hard to accommodate North Carolina's decision-making process.
“Normally we would have started making decisions about site locations actually months ago. We worked with Dan's committee and with all of our sports committees to be able to extend those decisions as far as we could.
“We've reached a place where they actually need to start making those decisions -- they've been meeting this week and they'll be meeting next week as well -- because we start losing sites. If you don't take some sites, you'll start losing them and then the options start to drift away.
“So those committees have been waiting to see whether or not North Carolina was going to change their laws. And then they have to wait and see whether or not the Board of Governors will determine whether or not this bill that was recently passed today is a sufficient change in the law for the board to feel comfortable going back to North Carolina.
“Everybody loves being in North Carolina for our games. It's a state, obviously, that in many ways is synonymous with college sports. They are great hosts. Nobody made the decision to leave North Carolina casually. It was a very, very difficult decision for the board to make, and I'm sure the next decision will be very difficult as well.
“Because this happened on such short notice, we have to now find a time to get together with the board. We'll probably be doing that in the next handful of days. The board is spread all over the country, and indeed some of them are out of the country.
“So we'll have to arrange that. We'll discuss and debate the issues over that timeframe, and then hopefully we'll be in a place where we can announce what our board's decision is the first part of next week.
“I'm personally very pleased that they have a bill to debate and discuss. The politics of this in North Carolina are obviously very, very difficult. But they have passed a bill now and it will be a great opportunity for our board to sit and debate and discuss it.
“I think there's one other point that needs to be really clear. And that is the NCAA does not consider itself -- the board, myself, the staff -- does not consider itself an entity that has any business telling a state what their laws should be.
“State’s laws and community’s laws are the business of their elected leaders and the citizens of those states. We, on the other hand, have a job to determine which states we will take our championships to and making sure that we can do that in environments that support the collegiate model and the 1100 colleges and universities that are part of the NCAA.”
Q. No matter what happens, no matter what the board of directors decides regarding North Carolina and championship sites, there are individual states that currently have laws regarding state-sponsored travel to several states. California is one, and UCLA travelled to SC, said it wasn't state funded, but it's not difficult to conceive of a future in which some team can't go to some state. What's the status of your guys planning for that?
“I think it's a really difficult circumstance to manage obviously. If you've got any number of states, but especially one as large as California where you have so many schools and places saying they won't support travel to those places, we want to make sure, of course, that the sports committees can seed a tournament fairly.
“If you say, well, you can't go to that region because of state law, it puts everybody in a difficult place, obviously. We can't control what states' laws are, nor should we. All we can do is make sure that we're making decisions that are grounded upon the right kind of values and providing the best opportunities for our students.
“If any state says they're not going to travel to any other place for some other reason, we can't then say, well, we've decided we're not going to go there because another state has decided it.
“So we'll have to deal with those on an idiosyncratic basis as each of those state makes those decisions. I don't know whether or not this change in the law in North Carolina will convince California, for example, whether or not they want to ease their ban or not.
“But we can't make our decisions contingent upon that. It certainly is a variable that we have to think about when we're seeding tournaments. But we really can't have it be any other way, unfortunately. But it's a real difficulty, you're absolutely right.”
Q. Mark, the NBA All-Star Game pulled out of the state of North Carolina, businesses things like that, but it was the specter of losing these NCAA Tournaments, specifically basketball I would imagine, that kind of spurned this change, I guess. For one, why do you think that is? And for two, do you take any sort of pride in helping perhaps foster a more inclusive environment for the student-athletes?
“Well, I think the reasons are relatively clear. Dan was just outlining some of them. The attractiveness of the NCAA basketball tournament and NCAA sports in general, college sports across the board, is very high everywhere in America, and I think no place more so than North Carolina. It's so rich in college sport tradition.
“You've got great professional teams, but the depth of pride that Carolinians have in their college sports is enormous. So I'm sure that it is a source of deep frustration for a lot of people that some college events aren't going on there right now.
“I don't think there's necessarily pride to be had in this process. We're simply trying to do what's right for our students. It's easy to forget that this isn't about a great big event like this. It's not just about entertainment. These are 1100 universities and colleges. Universities and colleges look at the world as higher education institutions.
“They want to make sure that their students, their staffs, their fans, are having an experience that provides a safe and inclusive environment that reflects what they care about as institutions.
“So to the extent that that lines up with state laws in North Carolina, that's a great thing. And we're happy for it. If the North Carolinians want to go another direction, well, that's their decision. And they get to make that choice. But I'm personally just glad that we have a bill that at least they can debate and look at and we'll see what they decide.”
Q. Mark, obviously Texas has a similar bill proposed right now. And with the Final Four slated to go to San Antonio, what would be the timetable? And how will you guys address that one?
“You know, one of the things that we're trying hard not to do, when I say we, I mean me and the board and everybody involved, is not try to second-guess states where they're going to go where they're not going to go. There was this last year, I think, something like five different states had bills of various kinds around restrictions in this area. None of which have passed.
“And only movement legislatively so far has been North Carolina moving away from that sort of bill. So I don't know that we should presuppose where Texas is going. And I don't know that there's any value in speculating about it.
“The speaker of the house in Texas has opined he doesn't think this is a good bill. He's obviously a very powerful voice in this debate. So we'll wait and see where it goes.”
Q. Do you have a timeline?
“We don't have a clear timeline.”
Q. The Final Four is already booked --
“Moving the Final Four is a very difficult thing to do, obviously. It's not like moving a regional or a first or second round. I don't know what the timeline is. Dan will lose more hair though if I set a specific date and he has to meet it.”
Q. When you originally moved away from North Carolina, the Board of Governors had four specific problems with HB2 as opposed to other laws in other states. One of them was the prohibition and removal of all local anti-discrimination ordinances. The compromise includes a moratorium on all of those local ordinances through 2020. Is it possible the NCAA could look at returning to North Carolina after 2020, and how can you go back there if this contradicts the number one point that you guys were objecting to?
“So the North Carolina bill was unusual, as you just pointed out, among all of the state laws. The state laws in a variety of these areas are quite distinct and very complex.
“We've tried to do a number of analyses, laying them all side by side, and it very quickly becomes very, very difficult. What distinguished North Carolina was, as you pointed out, there were four distinct problems that the board had with that bill.
“They've removed some of those now but not, as you point out, not all of them. And the question the board will be debating: If you remove two or three of them, is that enough, relative to other states?
“So the board -- the fact that the board only identified one state that it didn't want to go to, while recognizing there were 49 other states with various degrees of support or restrictions around LGBT rights and other civil rights issues, it certainly meant that they saw North Carolina as distinctive.
“And the question that's going to be before them: Is it now still so distinctive that we don't want to go there? Or is it close enough to where everybody else is in the country that it makes sense to be there?
“That will really come down to: Can they in fact host events there that reflect the values of the association in the venues that would be available for us?”
Q. Mark, semantically do you consider this a repeal? That's how it's being portrayed.
“Technically, obviously it is. They repealed a bill. HB2 is gone and no longer the law of the land. We made clear that absent any change in the law we weren't going back to North Carolina. They've changed the law.
“Now the question is: Does this new bill, the number of which I forget, 143 or something -- whether or not this new bill has changed the landscape sufficiently that the board's comfortable in returning to North Carolina. Again, a place everybody likes to go.
“This isn't about North Carolina not being a hospitable place for events. It is. But can we conduct them in a way that's consistent with our values?”
Q. And just to be clear, they would have til April 25th when the Board of Governors meets or else Carolina would miss out on the four-year cycle, is that accurate?
“No, it's not. This decision by the board will have to be made by early to middle of next week, because the sports committees have to get on with their selection process, because they're going to start losing bids and sites in other states.
“So we've been, frankly, as patient as we possibly can and stretching out the process as far as we possibly could in order to try and accommodate the decision-making in Carolina.”
Q. Mark, wondering how much consultation you had or the board had with North Carolina lawmakers in the last couple of weeks, specifically in the last few days?
“I've been mostly listening to lawmakers, both legislative leaders and the governor as well, on a pretty regular basis -- I want to be really, really clear with not any intent to lobby; that's not our business, we don't do that -- to clarify timelines, to help them understand what our processes are, help them understand why the board made the decisions that they made and on what basis and to listen to their views and expressions.
“I would characterize all those conversations as very informative, cordial, and I hope it's providing them with the information that they needed in those debates and discussions.”
Q. Mark, one very short question, if I could, just a little follow-up on that. There was the assumption or, excuse me, there was some speculation that today was a hard deadline given to North Carolina. It didn't really read that way in your statement last week, but was today a hard deadline for North Carolina to do something?
“No, we were really clear in our written communication that this was the week in which we needed to make decisions. The men's basketball committee, as Dan can tell you, is having meetings right now, right here, and under normal circumstances would be making decisions now and moving forward.
“We've been able to persuade the sports committees to move that back into the -- move it back to the beginning of next week so they won't have to make decisions pending the outcome of these debates and discussions, frankly, in order to give North Carolina a chance to pass a bill, which they just did.”
Q. You talked about the board getting together. It will be their decision. Who advises the board? This is a state law that you have to dig into.
“Sure. So I and my staff provide them with whatever legal or other analysis that they need and help them with these discussions.
“Obviously the board has been very well informed on this. We've kept them up to date on the transactions as they've gone on and all the various debates, both in North Carolina and other states.
So they're quite familiar with the issues and the topic, and it will be really an analysis of how they feel about this bill relative to the values that they've established and identified.”
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock