It’s Just Sports: How Kids Playing Basketball Just Overturned a Notorious State Law

What now for the NCAA when a repeal doesn’t appeal?

Ranked 121st in the nation in offense, the middling South Carolina Gamecocks were never supposed to beat college basketball powerhouse Duke, from neighboring North Carolina.

As the final buzzer sounded, the crowd — a sea of red — exploded at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

The Gamecocks, who will fight Gonzaga for a spot in the championship game this weekend, have never made it this far in their history. How did they get here?

It’s simple: in 2016 North Carolina passed a law enshrining discrimination against transgender (by banning them using the bathroom of their gender) and LGBTQ people (by banning municipalities from passing laws to protect them from discrimination).

The chain of events it kicked off are all over the headlines today. Other states and cities began banning publicly-funded travel to North Carolina; PayPal, Deutsche Bank and other businesses​ canceled plans to expand there; musicians, film studios and conferences began pulling out; the NBA canceled the 2017 All-Star Game there; and the NCAA relocated seven championship events scheduled to be played there.

One such event? The Duke vs South Carolina game. The NCAA moved it to South Carolina. Duke are 34–6 in March Madness games played at home in North Carolina. Instead, home-court advantage went to South Carolina, who won 83% of their home games this year and only 54% of away games.

While the pundits and politicians are debating the impact of all of the boycott actions on what happened yesterday, one thing is clear in the timeline: the NCAA set noon yesterday as the deadline for the repeal of the law or face a ban of all hosting rights until at least 2022. The North Carolina legislature passed the bill repealing it at 11am. The Governor cleared his schedule to be able to sign it into law immediately.

So this much we can say for sure: for college sports-mad North Carolina (the other local team, UNC, will face off against South Carolina in the championship game if both win their respective semi-finals), the threat from the NCAA was enough to force reluctant action on the bill.

The unresolved question is whether what happened yesterday was enough to be anointed with the NCAA’s blessing. Did the repeal go far enough?

HB2 has been replaced by HB142. It did three main things:

  1. Repeal HB2
  2. Gave the state, and only the state, control of the rules governing bathrooms, and
  3. Put a moratorium on local anti-discrimination laws until December 1, 2020.

The bill was a compromise. Republicans, who introduced the original law (and are attempting to do so in other states), are still in control of the North Carolina legislature. It had to repeal HB2 — that much is clear — if it wanted to please the NCAA.

The NCAA standard under which the ultimatum was issued is this:

“The bidding process for hosting NCAA events now explicitly asks potential sites how they will provide an environment that is safe, respectful and free of discrimination at the events.”

The most recent statement issued, a week before yesterday’s deadline, said this:

“Last year, the NCAA Board of Governors relocated NCAA championships scheduled in North Carolina because of the cumulative impact HB2 had on local communities’ ability to assure a safe, healthy, discrimination free atmosphere for all those watching and participating in our events. Absent any change in the law, our position remains the same regarding hosting current or future events in the state.”

On one hand, North Carolina has complied with the request: HB2 is no more; there has been a “change in law”.

In Weekend Caucus’ opinion, that qualifies North Carolina for new consideration to be a host for NCAA events. But does the “change in law” meet the standard of providing “an environment that is safe, respectful and free of discrimination” and “assure a safe, healthy, discrimination free atmosphere for all those watching and participating”.

No it does not.

The #2 feature of the bill listed above explicitly denies state agencies like the University of North Carolina from setting their own rules for bathroom access. #3 denies local ordinances doing the same, or any other anti-discrimination protections. In other words, if the City of Charlotte or UNC wanted to assure the NCAA that any tournament they hosted would provide a safe environment, they would not have the power to do so. Only the state can set those conditions, and it is clear they do not want to.

We’re not alone in this conclusion. The Human Rights Campaign was quick to declare it changes nothing:

As were Athlete Ally:

“This HB2 replacement is still an anti-LGBT piece of legislation and does not change the fact that North Carolina is not a state that can provide a safe, healthy, and discrimination-free environment for sporting events they host.”

Those organizations, who had only the week before last received assurances from the NCAA that their resolve to protect LGBT athletes and fans stood strong, were joined by a host of commentators who warned a capitulation from the NCAA would send a signal to the NBA, musicians, businesses, etc that North Carolina was back open for business.

Now the ball is in the NCAA’s court. The urgency of their deadline was premised on the fact they need to decide the venues for the next slew of tournaments. Those venues will be announced by April 18. In that announcement, we will know whether the NCAA’s commitment to equality was genuine or not.

And by that time, thanks to HB2 and against all odds, the South Carolina Gamecocks may be national champions for the first time ever.