The NCAA may have gotten what it wanted with the repeal of the North Carolina bathroom bill, but it wasn’t much of a victory for the college sports behemoth.
Instead, the NCAA found itself trapped Tuesday between gay rights groups livid over its decision to place North Carolina back in the mix for championship games, and state Republicans determined to hold the association accountable for its partisan meddling.
State Republican legislators have introduced a bill calling for the IRS to investigate the NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference for suspected violations of their tax-exempt status stemming from their advocacy against House Bill 2 in North Carolina.
“People are just fed up with this giant monopoly that makes a ton of money stepping way out of bounds and playing politics,” said state Rep. Mark Brody, a Republican. “There’s a lot of resentment in North Carolina with the NCAA. And I don’t know if it will get repaired.”
He said Republicans are also preparing a letter to House and Senate committees in Washington, asking them to investigate the NCAA’s political involvement, which includes recent incursions to banish Indian mascots and the Confederate flag.
“They continue to get involved because nobody challenges them,” Mr. Brody said.
The NCAA pulled seven championship games out of North Carolina after the enactment last year of HB2, which regulated public restrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities on the basis of biological sex. After months of outcry and calls for boycotts by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and its supporters, the law was repealed by the North Carolina legislature last week. Another bill, HB142, signed into law Friday places a three-year moratorium on local ordinances regulating public accommodations.
Activists on the opposite side of the bathroom issue were unhappy as well.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, which spearheaded the boycott of North Carolina, said the NCAA “backtracked on their vow to protect LGBTQ players, employees and fans.”
The NCAA did not respond to a request for comment, but President Mark Emmert insisted in a March 30 press conference that the league “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,” Mr. Emmert said. “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 1,100 colleges and universities that are part of the NCAA.”
Tami Fitzgerald, NC Values Coalition executive director, called it hypocritical for the NCAA to go to the mat with North Carolina instead of enforcing transgender equality at its member schools.
“We’ve thought all along that the NCAA was acting hypocritically because they were demanding North Carolina change its policy that prohibits men in women’s restrooms and women in men’s restrooms, as if the sexes were equal,” she said. “And yet they have separate leagues for men’s and women’s leagues; they don’t even open their locker rooms to the opposite sex.”
In an August 2015 analysis, USA Today Sports said only 10 out of 50 Division I programs contacted said they had used the NCAA’s 2011 recommendations on transgender inclusion to enact formal policies.
“They don’t hold [universities] accountable, but they want to hold North Carolina accountable,” Mr. Brody said.
The NCAA board announced Tuesday that it had “reluctantly voted to allow consideration” of North Carolina cities as hosts for postseason play, despite the repeal bill’s inclusion of a three-year moratorium on local ordinances regulating public restrooms.
The decision was made a year after the NCAA joined the economic boycott of North Carolina over HB2, issuing a rule in April 2016 requiring host cities for championships to “provide an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination.”
This wasn’t the NCAA’s first foray into a hot-button political debate related only tangentially to college athletics.
For 15 years, the association banned South Carolina from hosting championship events over the flying of the Confederate flag on statehouse grounds. That boycott ended in 2015 when Gov. Nikki Haley took down the stars and bars in the wake of a racially motivated mass shooting in a Charleston church.
In 2005, the NCAA issued a ban on Indian mascots, nicknames and logos deemed “hostile and offensive” under threat of being excluded from hosting postseason tournaments. Schools that received official permission from the tribe in question were able to keep their mascots.
In light of its past political advocacy, Hudson Taylor, executive director of Athlete Ally, said Tuesday’s decision sets the “precedent that LGBT discrimination is OK to the NCAA.”
“Today the NCAA told the LGBT community that they are not a priority,” Mr. Taylor said on the press call. “For 15 years, the NCAA banned South Carolina from hosting championships and events for the flying of the Confederate flag. They banned schools with Native American mascots in postseason competition. So to reward North Carolina with NCAA championships and events when they continue to discriminate against LGBT athletes, administrators, coaches and fans is to endorse that discrimination.”
The nonprofit collegiate sports league joined PayPal, Deutsche Bank and the NBA to curtail business activities after Gov. Pat McCrory signed HB2, which regulated public restrooms, locker rooms and showers on the basis of biological sex.
Unlike the one-time political stands made by other companies, however, the NCAA boycott required a recurring commitment to keep games out of North Carolina.
When it came time to determine locations for champion events until 2022, Ms. Fitzgerald said, the NCAA may have realized that they had taken things “a little bit too far.”
“What happens if they turn around and say, ‘We don’t want the death penalty anymore?’” said Mr. Brody. “There’s no limit to where they can go.”
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