The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, the association’s flagship annual event, was scheduled to play six first-and-second round games in Greensboro, N.C., pouring money into the city’s economy next March.
In response to a North Carolina law that limits anti-discrimination protections for gay, lesbian, and transgender people, the NCAA announced Monday it will relocate these games, as well as all other championship tournaments games, out of the Tar Heel State, “where college basketball is central to the state’s culture and pride,” wrote Marc Tracy and Alan Blinder for The New York Times on Tuesday.
The NCAA’s actions are part of a larger trend of sports organizations, corporations, and even musicians refusing to conduct business in North Carolina because they say that so-called HB2 – a law which requires transgender people to use restrooms at schools and government buildings that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates – is discriminatory. The National Basketball Association (NBA) pulled the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, PayPal cancelled a planned expansion to the state, and five states and numerous cities have barred employees and people who represent public institutions from traveling to the state for business reasons.
But the NCAA’s actions are unique because of the number of events and the repeated publicity it was scheduled to bring to North Carolina.
“This is an incredible statement from the NCAA,” Hudson Taylor, the executive director of Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization that advocates against homophobia and transphobia in sports, told The New York Times. “I think this is making it clear that any state or city wishing to host N.C.A.A. championships has to protect and respect their L.G.B.T. constituents.”
The law Gov. Pat McCrory signed in July limits anti-discrimination provisions that apply to gender identity and sexual orientation. It also prevents individuals from suing for gender identity or sexual discrimination in the workplace, or in places of business, such as restaurants and hotels.
North Carolina Republican lawmakers have argued that the bathroom access provisions are to protect public safety. "Protecting the safety and privacy of North Carolina families by keeping grown men out of bathrooms, shower facilities and changing rooms with women and young girls has always been our primary objective," Senate leader Phil Berger (R) Rockingham said in a statement in July.
The NCAA said in a statement Monday it found this law prevented it from promoting “an inclusive atmosphere for all college athletes, coaches, administrators and fans.”
“Fairness is about more than the opportunity to participate in college sports, or even compete for championships,” said Mark Emmert, CEO of the NCAA. “We believe in providing a safe and respectful environment at our events and are committed to providing the best experience possible for college athletes, fans and everyone taking part in our championships.”
In the news release, the NCAA referred to the five states — New York, Minnesota, Washington, Vermont, and Connecticut — that prohibit their employees and representatives of their public institutions from traveling to North Carolina. This “could include student-athletes and campus athletics staff,” writes the NCAA.
The University of Vermont already canceled a women’s basketball game scheduled to be played at the University of North Carolina, and the State University of New York at Albany canceled a men’s basketball game set to be played at Duke, according to The New York Times.
Besides the men’s basketball tournament, other championship games affected are women’s soccer, women’s golf, and women’s lacrosse in Division I; baseball in Division II; and men’s and women’s soccer in Division III.
North Carolina Republican Party spokeswoman Kami Mueller was one of a number of critics that slammed the NCAA’s actions, referring to it as a double-standard.
I wish the NCAA was this concerned about the women who were raped at Baylor," said Ms. Mueller, reported ESPN. "Perhaps the NCAA should stop with their political peacocking – and instead focus their energies on making sure our nation's collegiate athletes are safe, both on and off the field."
"I genuinely look forward to the NCAA merging all men's and women's teams together as singular, unified, unisex teams. Under the NCAA's logic, colleges should make cheerleaders and football players share bathrooms, showers and hotel rooms. This decision is an assault to female athletes across the nation. If you are unwilling to have women's bathrooms and locker rooms, how do you have a women's team?
State lawmakers have been widely criticized ever since the bill was approved at a special legislative session in March.
A number of corporate businesses have condemned the state’s decision to pass the law, and some have even pulled their business from the state, costing North Carolina hundreds of jobs, as Patrik Jonsson detailed for The Christian Science Monitor in April.
While some executives, such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, merely issued public statements on the state’s decision, others have decided to pull their business. PayPal, for example, canceled a planned expansion to the state. Google said that it would not inject any venture capital into the state until the law was changed, Christina Beck wrote for the Monitor.
Entertainers, too, have spoken out strongly against HB2, with musicians like Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr cancelling appearances as a result. The economic impact of the state legislature’s decision could be considerable, with many cities and towns unable to withstand the financial backlash from businesses and consumers pulling out of the state.
The NBA announced its decision to move the All Star Game this week, after state lawmakers left the law largely unchanged following a review.
The Atlantic Coast Conference under the NCAA must now decide if it, too, will not hold its football conference championship in Charlotte.
“HB2 was previously scheduled to be thoroughly discussed at this week's ACC Council of Presidents meeting, so it would be premature to make any decisions or announcements regarding ACC Championships until our membership is able to discuss. The league's longstanding commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion will continue to be a central theme to our discussions,” said Conference Commissioner John Swofford in a statement Monday night. “On a personal note,” he added, “it's time for this bill to be repealed as it's counter to basic human rights.”