Pressuring the Legislature: NCAA, ACC Remove Championships From North Carolina in Response to Bathroom Law

Photo by: https://www.flickr.com/photos/smartsignbrooklyn
Photo by: https://www.flickr.com/photos/smartsignbrooklyn

*By Dana Sleeper

October 17, 2016

It is hard to think about collegiate athletics without thinking about the state of North Carolina.[1]  The atmosphere surrounding sports in North Carolina plays a role in shaping the culture and identity of the state.[2]  Teams such as Duke and UNC are frequent topics of household conversation.[3]  When the NCAA and ACC decided in September to remove championship games from the state “to neutral sites in response to the controversial bathroom law,” the sports community could not help but notice the organizations’ political stance on the issue.[4]

What is House Bill 2?

The bathroom law, commonly referred to as House Bill 2 (“HB2”), requires people to use public restrooms that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificates.[5]  HB2 nullified protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (“LGBT”) individuals in North Carolina that were established through many local ordinances.[6]  The law is arguably discriminatory towards transgender individuals, and has outraged the LGBT community across the United States.[7]

Citizens of North Carolina have been protesting for months in an attempt to repeal HB2.[8]  Neither the Republican-controlled legislature nor Governor Pat McCrory, who is running for re-election, have batted an eye at the backlash from the protestors.[9]  Despite boycotts and multiple federal lawsuits against the state of North Carolina, the leaders of the state remain steadfast in support of the legislation.[10]  In chastising the dissenters in the state, Governor McCrory said, “I strongly encourage all public and private institutions to both respect and allow our nation’s judicial system to proceed without economic threats or political retaliation.”[11]

How is the Sports Community Reacting to the NCAA and ACC decisions? 

This past summer, before the NCAA and ACC decided to remove their respective events from North Carolina, the NBA announced it was pulling the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte.[12]  The NCAA and ACC are organizations that arguably touch the lives of an even larger portion of sports fans than the NBA, especially in the state of North Carolina.[13]  After announcing its decision, the council of presidents of the ACC released a statement claiming that the decision “reaffirmed [their] collective commitment to uphold the values of equality, diversity, inclusion and non-discrimination.”[14]

The ACC decision applies to the 2016–2017 academic year and includes the relocation of the Football Championship game that was supposed to be played at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.[15]  Additionally, the decision affects eight neutral-site championships ranging from soccer to golf across North Carolina.[16]  The removal of these championship games is not only disappointing for players and fans, but also represents a blow to the state’s economy.[17]  Chief executive of the Charlotte Regional Visitor’s Authority, Tom Murray, complained that it is now too late to organize a different event to replace the 2016 Football Championship that had an economic impact of more than $32 million in 2015.[18]  The Carolina Panthers, the NFL team that uses Bank of America Stadium as its home field, supported the ACC decision and, although disappointed, said, “[o]ur organization is against discrimination and has a long history of treating all of our patrons at Bank of America Stadium with dignity and respect.”[19]

College coaches and presidents have been generally supportive of both the NCAA and ACC decisions as well. Clemson president James P. Clements noted “[t]he decision to move the neutral-site championships out of North Carolina while HB2 remains the law was not an easy one, but it is consistent with the shared values of inclusion and nondiscrimination at all of our institutions.”[20]  Duke president Richard Brodhead also agreed, reasoning that, “[i]t was the NCAA’s to decide, and obviously they have many things to try to compute, and I think at the end of the day they regarded this as a fairness and equal rights, equal protection kind of issue. Certainly that’s the way we see it.”[21]

What Will Happen Next? 

The decisions by both the NCAA and ACC have naturally sparked a contentious debate across the country.  Opponents of the law have welcomed the athletic organizations’ bold move while supporters of the law assert that the NCAA and the ACC are “inappropriately inserting [themselves] into politics.”[22]  Some remain hopeful that the actions may inspire a change in North Carolina, especially because sports are such a central part of the state’s culture.  It is probably more likely, however, that the courts will eventually have to step in if the bathroom law is to be repealed.[23]  Nonetheless, the NCAA and the ACC have made strides in bringing more awareness to the controversy and consequently putting more pressure on the legislature to consider a change.

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*Staff Writer, Jeffery S. Moorad Sports Law Journal, J.D. Candidate, May 2018, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law

[1] See, e.g.Will NCAA, ACC Pullout of North Carolina Be Final Straw for HB2 Bathroom Law?, NBC News (Sept. 14, 2016, 3:18 PM), http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/will-ncaa-pullout-north-carolina-be-final-straw-hb2-bathroom-n647661 (acknowledging college sports have been huge part of culture in North Carolina for past 70 years).

[2] See id. (suggesting college sports create family bonds throughout the state).

[3] See id. (stating discussion of college athletics forms significant part of everyday life for many citizens in North Carolina).

[4] See generally ACC Relocates Championships to Neutral Sites Due to North Carolina Bathroom Law, Sports Illustrated (Sept. 14, 2016), http://www.si.com/college-football/2016/09/14/acc-relocates-championships-north-carolina-bathroom-law?xid=si_social (noting ACC decided to relocate its championships several days after NCAA announced its decision).

[5] See id. (summarizing provisions of North Carolina law); see also H.B. 2, 2015–2016 Gen. Assemb., 2d Extra Sess. (N.C. 2016), available at http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2015E2/Bills/House/PDF/H2v3.pdf.

[6] See Marc Tracy & Alan Blinder, A.C.C. Pulls League Championships Out of North Carolina, N.Y. Times (Sept. 14, 2016), http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/15/sports/acc-championships-north-carolina-hb2.html (stating means by which bathroom law accomplished its objectives).

[7] See ACC Relocates Championships to Neutral Sites Due to North Carolina Bathroom Law,supra note 4 (noting HB2 limits protections for members of LGBT community).

[8] See Margolin, supra note 1 (acknowledging disapproval among groups in North Carolina and their efforts to encourage change or repeal of law).

[9] See id. (noting protestors’ efforts have been unsuccessful in inspiring leaders in state to reconsider bathroom law).

[10] See id. (showing federal lawsuits against state have not inspired any efforts to repeal statute).

[11] Id. (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Governor Pat McCrory’s view reacting to new legislation with economic threats and political retaliation is inappropriate).

[12] See ACC Relocates Championships to Neutral Sites Due to North Carolina Bathroom Lawsupra note 4 (demonstrating NBA was first sports organization to take stance against bathroom law).

[13] See generally Margolin, supra note 1 (asserting importance of college sports in North Carolina). “We’re a state that considers basketball and soccer and baseball and golf to be part of our identity. We’ve hosted a men’s postseason basketball tournament, ACC or NCAA, every year since 1985, but we won’t in 2017.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Ed Hardin, Ed Hardin: A Slap in the Face from the NCAA, and McCrory’s to Blame, News & Record Greensboro.com (Sept. 12, 2016, 9:15 PM), available at http://www.greensboro.com/sports/columns/ed-hardin-a-slap-in-the-face-from-the-ncaa/article_5ad35da9-4371-5818-b014-5688bdcec7d7.html).

[14] Andrea Adelson, ACC Moving Neutral-Site Championship Games out of North Carolina Due to HB2, ESPN (Sept. 15, 2016), http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/17547270/acc-moving-neutral-site-championship-games-north-carolina-due-hb2 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting statement from ACC council of presidents about purpose and values that motivated decision).

[15] See Chip Patterson, ACC to Relocate 2016 Football Championship from North Carolina Due to HB2 Law, CBS Sports (Sept. 14, 2016), http://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/acc-to-relocate-2016-football-championship-from-north-carolina-due-to-hb2-law/ (stating time frame and parameters of ACC decision to pull championships out of North Carolina).

[16] See id. (providing ACC decision affects women’s soccer, football, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, women’s basketball, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s golf, men’s golf, and baseball).

[17] See Tracy & Blinder, supra note 6 (suggesting college athletics bring large amount of revenue to state of North Carolina).

[18] See id. (referencing amount of revenue generated through last year’s championship football game to show what state will miss when game is played elsewhere this year).

[19] ACC Relocates Championships to Neutral Sites Due to North Carolina Bathroom Lawsupranote 4 (quoting Carolina Panthers commitment to providing inclusive environment at Bank of America Stadium and support of ACC’s decision to remove football championship).

[20] Tracy & Blinder, supra note 6 (quoting Clemson president’s supporting view of ACC decision).

[21] Margolin, supra note 1 (quoting Duke president’s supporting view of NCAA decision).

[22] See Tracy & Blinder, supra note 6 (highlighting divide sweeping over college sports fans about decision to pull championships from controversial geographical territory in North Carolina).

[23] See Margolin, supra note 1 (suggesting judicial system may eventually play a role in overturning bathroom law).