For months, North Carolina has weathered the umbrage of corporate America and the anger of the federal government over a law that curbed the rights of gay and transgender people.
But in a state where basketball coaches and March Madness tournament moments are immortalized, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s decision to punish the state for its contested law — by stripping it of the seven championship events it was to host this academic year — was, in the words of the writer Ed Southern, “a punch to the gut.”
Hosting college sports tournaments is part of the state’s fabric. “It is something that North Carolinians take pride in, and have taken pride in for so long,” said Mr. Southern, the author of an anthology about sports in North Carolina. “Especially when it comes to college basketball, we tend to be pretty snobbish.”
Yet the coming college basketball postseason will not run through North Carolina, nor will N.C.A.A. championships in baseball, lacrosse, golf, soccer and tennis that were scheduled for the state. And Tuesday’s round of sports-related soul-searching often seemed to revolve around a single question: Why did a political firestorm about transgender rights have to shut down basketball courts and baseball diamonds?
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Supporters of the law commonly known as House Bill 2, which, among other provisions, requires people in publicly owned buildings to use restrooms that correspond with the gender listed on their birth certificate, saw the N.C.A.A. as a fount of hypocrisy and “political peacocking.” Critics, who say the statute is discriminatory, frequently described the decision as bittersweet. Some questioned whether the N.C.A.A. should have penalized communities for the actions of the state government.
The debates sometimes appeared academic, amid copious talk about sports in a state where elementary students dress in jerseys and can rattle off the letters of the consonant-rich surname of the men’s basketball coach at Duke University (Krzyzewski).
“For so many here, college athletics is part of their identity, so I think today, it’s more than economics,” said D. Scott Dupree, the executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, which recruits events to the area in and around the state capital. “I think people today feel disappointed, frustrated, ticked off or just plain sad, or a combination of all of the above. People take it personally.”
Officials at the universities in the state that belong to the Atlantic Coast Conference — Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest — expressed disappointment in the N.C.A.A.’s plan. Fan websites became forums for arguments about civil rights law instead of recruiting. Then there was the incredulity that North Carolina, which has hosted more N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament games (251) than any other state, would not do so next year.
“This cuts really deep for me,” said Mayor Nancy Vaughan of Greensboro, whose father was the A.C.C.’s associate commissioner for basketball operations. “We have a history of supporting people throughout our community, and we wish the N.C.A.A. would have made their decision based on the merits of the communities that these tournaments are in and not by something the legislature imposed on us.”
More disappointments may lie ahead, in large part because Monday’s decision increased the pressure on the A.C.C., which is headquartered in Greensboro and has scheduled more than a dozen championship events in North Carolina in the coming months.
The conference’s commissioner, John Swofford, said in a statement that A.C.C. leaders planned to discuss the law at a meeting this week. Although he would not comment on what might happen, Mr. Swofford said the N.C.A.A.’s decision “continues to build upon the negative impact” that the law “has already had on the state.” He added that he personally supported a repeal of the law, which he described as “counter to basic human rights.”
Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed the law and remained vocal in his support amid court challenges, said Tuesday that he encouraged “all public and private institutions to both respect and allow our nation’s judicial system to proceed without economic threats or retaliation.”
Mr. McCrory, a Republican who is seeking re-election this year and whose backing of the law has contributed to the tightness of the race for governor, added, “Sadly, the N.C.A.A., a multibillion-dollar, tax-exempt monopoly, failed to show this respect at the expense of our student-athletes and hard-working men and women.”
Other Republicans, some of whom believe the law will ultimately be beneficial politically, were harsher. “The line has now been drawn in the sand, first by Hollywood, now by the N.B.A. and N.C.A.A.: Either accept their progressive sexual agenda or pay the price,” Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said. “North Carolina will not play that game.”
Although the law’s supporters have argued that groups like the National Basketball Association, which moved its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte, are isolated and acting for purposes of political correctness, some people suggested that the N.C.A.A.’s decision could have wide effects.
“I’m very concerned that organizations are going to see what the N.C.A.A. did and act similarly,” said Mr. Dupree, who was in the Midwest to try to entice future competitions to the Raleigh area.
Ms. Vaughan described similar worries after witnessing months of high-profile cancellations, including a Bruce Springsteen concert in Greensboro.
“The drip, drip, drip may stop,” Ms. Vaughan said, “but it will stop because we’re in a drought.”
But as other cities and states began to jockey for chances to host N.C.A.A. events, a sense of sapped civic pride, beyond tourism dollars and public conundrums, seemed to hang over North Carolina.
“There’s a certain amount not just of pride but of possessiveness when the N.C.A.A. tournament in men’s basketball is played in North Carolina,” Mr. Southern said. “There’s a feeling that it belongs on Tobacco Road, or at least the early-round games.”
And there was a resignation, perhaps, that lawmaking and grandstanding all around had spoiled the state’s sports.
“It used to be basketball and barbecue were the two areas where North Carolinians shared common ground regardless of politics,” Luke DeCock, a sports columnist for The News & Observer in Raleigh, wroteafter the N.C.A.A. announced its plans. “Now we’re down to barbecue.”