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One Year After RFRA, the Women’s Final Four Comes to Indy

24 Feb, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
The Tournament the NCAA Threatened to Move to Another City Will Arrive in Early April. Will It Resuscitate the Argument?

One year has passed since Indiana governor Mike Pence passed the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), allowing business owners to refuse service to same-sex couples on the basis of their own religious beliefs. One year has also passed since legislators, recognizing the potential damage to Indiana’s economy, including that of sports tourism, amended the law. And, of course, one year has passed since the men’s Final Four rolled into Indianapolis and was played amid the resulting unrest.

Now, Indy is gearing up to host the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four – the very competition NCAA last year was threatening to move to a different city because of RFRA. But even with RFRA no longer a factor, the question lurks: will there be any repercussions in Indy when that tournament comes to town?

"No protests are expected," says Krysten Douglas of Visit Indy. In other words, the NCAA Final Four is simply expected to be a high-profile sports event that is welcomed and celebrated, like so many others have been.

And it's a good one to welcome and celebrate. According to an article published by the Brookings Institution, while women’s college sports are not always seen as the biggest draw in terms of athletics, this event has one of the highest profiles in women’s—or any—athletics. It generates high levels of attendance, TV viewership and substantial revenue for the cities that host the event. (The 2014 event brought between $20-25 million in direct revenue to the host city, Nashville.) In addition, this season marks the 35th anniversary of NCAA women’s basketball, so there’s a lot riding on the 2016 event.

Radio Station 93.1 in Indy claims in an online article that the RFRA mess has been “smoothed over” since last year. However, it may not be that simple. Indiana’s LGBT community continues to mourn Senate Bill 344, which if passed, would have prohibited discriminatory practices in acquisition or sale of real estate, housing, education, public accommodations, employment, the extending of credit, and public contracts based on military active duty status, or sexual orientation. The bill died without a vote in the Indiana Senate, raising the ire of equality groups around the state.

But still, a year is a long time, and since last March, the political climate has changed. Same-sex marriage is legal nationwide. Additional issues, such as racial justice, have claimed the national spotlight.  An election is on the horizon. So it may well be that while the Women’s Final Four flips turnstiles, drives business and causes massive economic impact, it does little to cause even a blip on the political radar of Indianapolis.

Visit Indy is certainly ready for the tournament, with a full complement of activities to engage residents, fans and visitors.

"There will be plenty of festivities including photo-ops on Georgia Street, a three-block pedestrian-friendly, European style outdoor event space," notes Douglas.

And in addition to carrying information on the tournament, Visit Indy (whose website last year included a rainbow banner and the words, “All are welcome in Indy”) continues to roll out the welcome mat to all segments of the community, with nearly a dozen articles on its website detailing LGBT-oriented and friendly attractions and events, as well as an external link to the Indy Rainbow Chamber.

The pieces of what appear to be a perfectly run tournament are falling into place. The NCAA has already made its first announcement regarding the top seeds.

And much to the relief of the sports world, it appears the only hiccups will express themselves as upsets that bust brackets and throw the office betting pool out of whack.

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