As North Carolina attempts once again to repeal its discriminatory HB2 law, which forces people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their birth certificate, not their their gender identity, discussions are almost entirely surrounding a deadline set by the NCAA.
The NCAA informed the state that unless the bill is repealed by Thursday, none of North Carolina’s 133 championship bids between 2018 and 2022 will be considered. That means no NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournaments and none of the business those tournaments provide.
With events having already been pulled from North Carolina in 2017, that would mean six straight years of no events in the state, which would be unprecedented. The NCAA wants North Carolina, and according to the head of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, it has bent over backwards to give the state every opportunity to repeal its discriminatory law.
“I have confirmed with a contact very close to the NCAA that its deadline for HB2 is 48 hours from now,” said Scott Dupree, who leads the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, which recruits NCAA and other sporting events to Raleigh. “If HB2 has not been resolved by that time, the NCAA will have no choice but to move forward without the North Carolina bids.”
“The NCAA has already delayed the bid review process once and has waited as long as it possibly can, and now it must finalize all championship site selections through spring of 2022.”
Few states, if any, are more synonymous with NCAA sports than North Carolina, which is probably why NCAA deadlines are pressuring lawmakers more than the prospect of the rest of the business that could leave the state, and already has left.
The NCAA essentially reserves a North Carolina location for its first and second round men’s NCAA Tournament games two out of every three years for UNC and/or Duke. Between 2010 and 2016, the state hosted games five times. Few regions love college basketball as much as Tobacco Road, and that love has had a major impact on state politics over the past two years.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski—an Obamacare endorser and longtime Republican donor, respectively—have both come out staunchly against the law. That reaction is likely what helped push Democrat Roy Cooper over Republican Pat McCrory in last year’s gubernatorial race, even after Donald Trump won the state in the presidential election.
The debate got even more intense after this year’s first and second round games in Greensboro were moved to Greenville, South Carolina, forcing Duke to play a de facto road game against South Carolina in an upset loss.
Still, neither side will budge. Republicans say that they have a proposal for a repeal that’s ready for Cooper to sign, but Cooper won’t sign it, because his spokesman says the replacement contains a “religious freedom” exception that would create just as many issues.
“It’s frustrating that Republican leaders are more interested in political stunts than negotiating a compromise to repeal HB2,” Cooper’s spokesman, Ford Porter, said in a statement. “While Governor Cooper continues to work for a compromise, there are still issues to be worked out, and Republican leaders’ insistence on including an Indiana-style RFRA provision remains a dealbreaker. Any compromise must work to end discrimination, repair our reputation, and bring back jobs and sports, and a RFRA is proven to do just the opposite.”
If the replacement does include an “RFRA” exception—one that allows people to deny services to others based on their religious beliefs—then North Carolina likely wouldn’t win its NCAA Tournaments back anyway. When Indiana, the NCAA’s home state, initially passed its RFRA law, the NCAA considered pulling events there, too, before the law was repealed.
HB2 should never have been passed in the first place. There was never an issue of men using women’s bathrooms for nefarious reasons, and statistics say discriminating against transgender people does not stop crime. But because of the state of American politics, this is the kind of bill Republicans believe can appeal to their base.
The only thing that has a chance to change the politics is basketball. Is North Carolina’s favorite sport enough to finally push a deal through—more than any other factor so far? We’ll know in 24 hours.