NC faces NCAA deadline: Repeal HB2 or no March Madness for the next 6 years

“This is a game we can’t afford to lose.”

CREDIT: Brian Gomsak/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign
CREDIT: Brian Gomsak/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign

It’s been nearly a year since the North Carolina General Assembly passed HB2, the anti-LGBT legislation that prevents cities from enacting non-discrimination ordinances and requires transgender men and women to use the bathroom that aligns with their birth certificate, not their gender identity.

The legislation has been a huge blow to the state’s economy. The NBA moved its 2017 All-Star game out of Charlotte, and PayPal canceled it plan to bring 400 jobs to the state, among other things.

Now, if North Carolina lawmakers don’t act quickly, things are set to get significantly worse.

If HB2 isn’t repealed by the end of this month, the NCAA says that North Carolina will not be eligible to host championship games or tournaments for the next six years. According to Scott Dupree, the executive director of the Raleigh Sports Alliance, that represents an economic impact of more than $250 million — a “significant historic” loss. (Governor Roy Cooper (D-NC) has estimated that the economic impact will actually be closer to $500 million.)

“It’s a choice that prioritizes politics and pride over fans, coaches, students, athletes, families, workers, and communities across North Carolina.”

The NCAA will announce the selections for the 2018–19 through 2021–22 championships in April, but Cooper told ESPN and ABC News that the meetings about the selections begin in March. Therefore, he’s given the legislature a deadline of the end of the month to repeal HB2.

In an op-ed in the Charlotte Observer on Wednesday, Cooper proposed what he calls a “common sense compromise,” urging Republican leaders to bring the proposal to a vote within the week.

Cooper’s proposal includes repealing HB2 immediately; strengthening punishments for criminals who violate safety and security of people in public bathrooms and dressing rooms; and requiring local governments to give legislators and the pubic at least a 30-day notice before passing any non-discrimination ordinances, so that citizens can make their opinions heard.

“It is a path forward to bringing back businesses and sporting events,” he wrote. “It is reasonable, and it will begin to wipe the stain off our state’s reputation.”

The governor isn’t the only one pushing the state legislature to act now. Earlier this week, four ACC athletes from North Carolina, NC State, Duke, and Wake Forest wrote a letter asking lawmakers to repeal the law immediately.

“It’s the fourth quarter, and the clock is winding down. This is a game we can’t afford to lose,” the letter opened.

The cost of these games goes beyond the deprivation of dollars and cents, beyond the stadiums and seats standing vacant, the officials, vendors, security guards, maintenance and media crews without work — the loss of these games is something more powerful than all of that: it’s a message. It’s a message because that loss is avoidable. To surrender North Carolina’s 133 bids to host championship events over the next six years is a deliberate choice. It’s a choice that prioritizes politics and pride over fans, coaches, students, athletes, families, workers, and communities across North Carolina.

There has been no indication that Republicans plan on cooperating with Cooper’s proposal, as they continue to say that allowing transgender women to use the women’s restroom represents a threat to the safety of cisgender women and girls. (Cooper calls this a “manufactured issue.”)

When Cooper took over in Raleigh after former Gov. Pat McCrory was voted out of office last fall, an HB2 repeal initially seemed inevitable. But things have not gone as planned.

In December, the governor struck what he thought was a good-faith compromise with Republicans: He would convince the Charlotte City Council to overturn its nondiscrimination ordinance, the local legislation that prompted HB2 to be passed in the first place, and then Republicans would push through repeal of the state law.

But after the Charlotte City Council voted 10–0 to repeal the ordinance, Republicans refused to hold up their end of the bargain.

Will the threat of losing six years of NCAA championships be enough to tip the scales for Republicans lawmakers? Maybe. But there are still plenty of reasons to be skeptical, especially considering the amount of economic damage that HB2 has already inflicted on the state.

Last September, Wired estimated that the legislation had already cost the state $400 million. In October, CoStar Group Inc. decided not to build new research headquarters in the state because of HB2, costing the state 730 new jobs. In December, the NAACP called for an economic boycott of the state.

In April, the NCAA Board of Governors officially added a bylaw stating that sites bidding for NCAA events had to demonstrate that they provide an environment free of discrimination. Though HB2 was not mentioned explicitly, many saw it as a direct response to North Carolina’s legislation.

“The higher education community is a diverse mix of people from different racial, ethnic, religious and sexual orientation backgrounds,” Kirk Schulz, president of Kansas State University and chair of the Board of Governors, said at the time. “So it is important that we assure that community — including our student-athletes and fans — will always enjoy the experience of competing and watching at NCAA championships without concerns of discrimination.”

The state has already lost a total of 17 NCAA and ACC events due to HB2, including the the 2017 ACC championship football game, and the first two rounds of this year’s NCAA basketball tournament.