As college basketball kicks off its biggest week, the shadow of House Bill 2 continues to loom over North Carolina as marquee games tip off elsewhere and a state lawmaker tries to whistle a penalty on the NCAA.
The NCAA Tournament, which include five teams from North Carolina, comes as efforts to repeal the year-old law remain stalemated. And it comes as the NCAA is deciding where to locate a series of championship games through 2022.
“You don’t think of basketball as being at the forefront of political change,” said Duke University’s Orin Starn, who teaches about sports and society. “Yet here we’re finding that the state religion of basketball is being affected by HB2.”
HB2 is the law that nullified a Charlotte ordinance extending anti-discrimination protection to the LGBT community. It requires transgender people, when in government-owned buildings, to use the bathroom or locker room corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates.
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The law already has impacted N.C. sports.
The NBA moved last month’s All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans. The ACC relocated 10 championship events in sports from baseball to soccer. Its football championship moved from Charlotte to Orlando, a move boosters say cost $100 million in lost economic benefit.
And the NCAA moved events including this month’s basketball tournament.
Duke and North Carolina, two tournament favorites, would have played early-round games in Greensboro. Instead they’re playing in Greenville, S.C.
Rep. Mark Brody, a Union County Republican, thinks the NCAA has gone too far.
“We are experiencing economic retaliation from this non-profit organization who, by the way, we have a long history of supporting,” Brody said. “But this organization decided it’s going to use economic retaliation in order to force us to pass a piece of social legislation that has nothing to do with the core mission of the NCAA.”
Brody said his bill would direct legislative leaders to ask the Internal Revenue Service to revoke the non-profit status of both the NCAA and the ACC. Spokeswomen for the organizations declined comment.
But both groups are unlikely to change course.
An N.C. sports official has said over 130 N.C. cities and schools have applied for NCAA events through 2022. The organization is expected to announce its choices next month.
ACC Commissioner John Swofford said last week the league is making contingency plans for other venues. Charlotte has been scheduled to host the ACC basketball tournament in 2019. It was scheduled to return to Greensboro in 2020.
“We’ve done some groundwork,” Swofford told the (Raleigh) News & Observer last week. “We would be remiss if we didn’t. This tournament takes up a week at a venue. Venues get booked. The longer we would wait the fewer places we would have available to us. Just from a practical standpoint, we don’t have any choice right now.”
Will Webb, executive director of the Charlotte Sports Foundation, said there would be a cost to pay.
“Losing the NCAA for the next few years would be devastating for sports fans and devastating to the pocketbooks of people who have part-time jobs when events come,” he said.
Matt Andrews, who teaches about sports and culture at UNC, said it’s not unusual for sports organizations to get involved in politics. The International Olympic Committee boycotted apartheid-era South Africa. And the NFL pulled the 1993 Super Bowl from Arizona after voters rejected a proposal to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a holiday.
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat who opposes HB2, has been unable to find a repeal compromise acceptable to the Republicans who control the General Assembly. And Republicans have been unable to persuade Cooper and Democrats to support a proposed House compromise.
And that’s where it’s likely to stand when March Madness tips off Tuesday night.
“Who would have imagined that basketball and bathrooms would have ended up part of the same story,” said Starn, the Duke professor.