Last week, the NCAA drew a hard line. It drew it in the sand of its women’s beach volleyball championships, on the turf of its baseball, softball, soccer and lacrosse games, and in the hardwood where basketball would play throughout March.
Now, it’s up to states to redraw their own lines.
The rule, which came last Wednesday, affects sites hosting or bidding on NCAA events in all divisions — from the Men’s and Women’s Final Fours to educational events such as leadership development conferences. According to a statement from NCAA, the rule requires states “to demonstrate how they will provide an environment that is safe, healthy, and free of discrimination, plus safeguards the dignity of everyone involved in the event.”
The action is the result of “recent actions of legislatures in several states, which have passed laws allowing residents to refuse to provide services to some people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” the NCAA added.
According to an article appearing in the Washington Post, that applies not just to sites that are considering bidding on events, but to sites that are presently scheduled to hold events. Specifically, Greensboro and Charlotte, North Carolina, cities set to host first- and second-round NCAA men’s basketball tournament games in 2017 and 2018. Those cities must show that they will provide a discrimination-free zone in their arenas or risk losing the games.
The NCAA has long disallowed its events from being held in states where the Confederate flag is displayed by the government, or at schools that decline to abandon Native American nicknames or imagery considered offensive.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that the latest salvo by NCAA stands to hit states right where it hurts. Few will want to give up an event as lucrative as a March Madness playoff, for example. An article in Forbes noted that Houston was expected to benefit from a $300 million boost as a result of hosting the Final Four. Even cities hosting earlier rounds, such as Providence, were estimated to see about $3.5 million, and in Philadelphia nearly $18 million was expected when the area hosted the Eastern Regional.
Those aren’t numbers any city wants to walk away from. The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, which had previously positioned itself as an inclusive city, particularly through use of its Always Welcome campaign, has been addressing the concerns of its members, says CEO Tom Murray.
“Lost business and concerned customers have unfortunately been areas of concern for the CRVA and for our city in recent weeks. We needed a positive message that speaks directly to the customer and potential visitor and lets them know that we value their business and still want them to come to Charlotte. The visitor economy employs one in nine individuals and generates $6.3 billion in economic impact that greatly enhances the city’s quality of life. We want to safeguard the significant legacy this industry has on both Charlotte and the state of North Carolina.”
“Frustrating,” was how Henri Fourrier, President and CEO of the Greensboro Convention & Visitors Bureau described the situation. “You work hard to get business and then someone makes a stupid decision.”
Fourrier says the area, which has hosted everything from gymnastics to track and field to masters swimming to college hoops, “has always been a very welcoming and open-armed community.” Ever since the law was passed, though, he adds, “we’ve been getting cancellations and threats of cancellations.”
Greensboro’s mayor, Nancy Vaughan, is also the executive director of the Guilford Green Foundation, which works to unite the community by fostering organizations that advance LGBT persons and issues.
Fourrier says it makes the new law all the more frustrating. Other cities, he adds have tried unsuccessfully to put forth such laws and have learned quickly about their potential impact upon sports tourism. The NCAA displayed its immense strength when RFRA threatened to play havoc with Indianapolis during Final Four. In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal ultimately did not sign “religious liberty” legislation that might have cost his state a Super Bowl. And in Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal tried unsuccessfully to push through the “Marriage and Conscience Order.”
Fourrier adds that the best course of action would be for the governor to admit the law was a mistake before further damage can be done to North Carolina's reputation.
“My wife and I raised four children, and something we always taught them was if you make a mistake, admit it. I don’t see why adults can’t follow that rationale.”