College Sports

HB2 repeal won't affect South Carolina's bid for NCAA events

North Carolina cheerleaders during the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in downtown Greenville on Friday, March 17, 2017.
North Carolina cheerleaders during the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in downtown Greenville on Friday, March 17, 2017. Greenville News

Mike Buddie pitched for five seasons in Major League Baseball. His career ended 15 years ago, but he still has a pitcher’s moxie.

He acknowledges and respects opponents, but he will not pitch around them.

Buddie is now the athletic director at Furman University and a member of the organizing committee that brought the first two rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament to Greenville two weeks ago. Furman, the Southern Conference, the Greenville visitors bureau, VisitGreenvilleSC, and the Bon Secours Wellness Arena capitalized on a heavy hitter being scratched from the lineup.

That formidable foe could return for the next round of bids, but Buddie welcomes the challenge.

In protest of House Bill 2, the state law that restricted the use of public restrooms and changing rooms based on biological sex, the NCAA pulled seven championship events from North Carolina. Contending the law, known as HB2, discriminated against transgender citizens, the NCAA relocated its most lucrative event from Greensboro to Greenville.

The N.C. Legislature advanced the law one week after the NCAA rendered an ultimatum.

The NBA, the ACC, Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr also cancelled events in North Carolina. An Associated Press analysis estimated that conventions, concerts and sporting events cancelled in response to HB2 deprived the state of more than $196 million.

On Thursday, North Carolina legislators passed House Bill 142 to repeal HB2 and repair the state’s reputation. Gov. Roy Cooper signed the bill late Thursday afternoon.

The Legislature advanced the law one week after the NCAA rendered an ultimatum that "absent any change in the law" North Carolina would not be considered when NCAA committees vote on championship sites for 2018 to 2022.

According to NCAA president Mark Emmert, those committees typically would have opened the selection process months ago, but they delayed to verify North Carolina's eligibility. Emmert said the NCAA Board of Governors will meet within "the next handful of days" to determine if the ban will be lifted.

"We have worked very hard to accommodate North Carolina's decision-making process," Emmert said. "We've reached a place where (committees) actually need to start making decisions. They've been meeting this week, and they'll be meeting next week as well, because we start losing sites. If you don't take some sites, you'll start losing them, and then the options start to drift away."

What we proved two weeks ago is that there is a place for basketball in South Carolina too.

Furman University Athletic Director Mike Buddie

Greenville submitted a bid to bring March Madness back to The Well between 2019 and 2022. The NCAA will announce its decisions April 18, but Buddie is not dismayed by North Carolina potentially joining the competition.

“Basketball absolutely deserves to be in North Carolina. It has a place there with so many great programs,” Buddie said, alluding to the five North Carolina schools that reached the NCAA Tournament this year, including his alma mater, Wake Forest University.

Buddie contends that Greenville’s nearly flawless management of the event this year and the University of South Carolina’s run to the women and men’s Final Four exhibit the Palmetto State’s appeal.

“What we proved two weeks ago is that there is a place for basketball in South Carolina too,” Buddie said. “All the feedback I’ve gotten is that Greenville was a great host, a great site. Hopefully, there’s room for South Carolina to continue to be in the rotation, but I’m glad that North Carolina potentially is going to be back in the running as well.”

The new law technically meets the criterion of the NCAA's ultimatum, but the Board of Governors may not be satisfied with the alterations. HB142 repeals HB2, but it preserves a divisive element that inhibits local governments from passing nondiscrimination ordinances until 2020.

They're reinforcing the worst aspects of the law.

James Esseks, director of the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project

"Now the question is whether or not this new bill has changed the landscape sufficiently that the board's comfortable in returning to North Carolina," Emmert said. "The NCAA does not consider itself an entity that has any business telling a state what their laws should be. States' laws are the business of their elected leaders and the citizens of those states.

"We, on the other hand, have a job to determine which states we will take our championships to and making sure that we can do that in environments that support the collegiate model and the 1,100 colleges and universities that are part of the NCAA."

Many detractors of the initial bill assert that the law has not changed enough for the NCAA to change its stance.

“This is not a repeal of HB2. Instead, they're reinforcing the worst aspects of the law," James Esseks, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project said in a statement. “North Carolina lawmakers should be ashamed of this backroom deal that continues to play politics with the lives of LGBT North Carolinians.”

The NCAA boycotted South Carolina through the previous 15 years, in response to the Confederate flag that flew at the Statehouse. The flag was lowered in 2015, and the ban was lifted. The state’s top venues immediately prepared their pursuit of major events.

“Greenville, Columbia, Charleston. Even with none of this HB2 stuff, competition in this part of the country was going to get a lot more difficult,” said Scott Dupree, executive director of the Raleigh Sports Alliance. The Raleigh-Cary area lost four of those seven relocated NCAA events.

"Everybody loves being in North Carolina for our games," Emmert said. "Nobody made the decision to leave North Carolina casually. It was a very, very difficult decision for the board to make, and I'm sure the next decision will be very difficult as well."

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