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The NCAA Just Gave North Carolina A $250 Million Ultimatum on Its HB2 “Bathroom Bill”

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When appeals to compassion and science don’t work, sometimes it’s time to try sportsball money.

The NCAA is deciding where to host its championship games for the next four years, and they’ve made it clear that North Carolina will be cut out of contention if the state does not repeal HB2, its discriminatory transgender “bathroom bill.” The NCAA committee will announce all championship event locations for 2018-2022 on April 18, and  “once the sites are selected by the committee, those decisions are final.”

The April 18 deadline means that, realistically, Republicans in North Carolina need to repeal HB2 within the next week or so if they want North Carolina to even enter the discussion. And there is a lot of money at stake here. According to the Associated Press, “The North Carolina Sports Association has said more than 130 bids have been submitted to the NCAA, estimating more than $250 million in potential economic impact.”

In its statement, the NCAA didn’t budge on its existing opposition to HB2.

“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.”

Given both the moral and economic incentives, a rational government might be moved to repeal HB2. However, over the past year, North Carolina Republicans have repeatedly prioritized discrimination over the welfare and economy of their state, as HB2 cost North Carolina jobs, prestige and money. The NCAA already moved seven scheduled championship games out of North Carolina last year; the NBA moved the 2017 All-Star Game to New Orleans; a cancelled conference in Asheville lost the state $1.5 million; both PayPal and Deutsche Bank backed out of planned job expansions in Charlotte and Cary, respectively. Multiple states banned official government travel to North Carolina. Musicians have cancelled concerts. Hell, Duke fans even blamed their March Madness loss on HB2, since the NCAA had moved their tournament game from home turf in Greensboro, NC to Greensville, SC.

None of this has convinced Republicans to do the right thing, so I don’t know how much impact the NCAA’s statement will realistically have.

However, there are ongoing talks in the state legislature. North Carolina recently elected a Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, and he has repeatedly called on Republicans to repeal HB2. “We can’t let this law see its first birthday…HB2 has divided us and stained our reputation,” he said in a statement back in February.

Cooper offered a compromise solution, described in the Charlotte Observer as “repeal coupled with stricter penalties for bathroom crimes and a requirement for local governments to notify lawmakers 30 days before adopting any non-discrimination ordinance.” Unfortunately, neither the Republicans nor Equality NC and the Human Rights Campaign like Cooper’s proposal.

In addition, North Carolina has the option of opting for a slimey half-measure. Texas, for example, is considering a similarly discriminatory “bathroom bill” called SB6–but with a key clause that allows private organizations to decide their own bathroom policies at any public facilities that they rent. This would theoretically protect Texas from an NCAA ban, as it would allow the NCAA to set inclusive bathroom policies at any Texas stadiums where it holds championships. That said, this clause is untested; it’s unclear whether it would ultimately be acceptable to the NCAA, as SB6 would still affect the hotels, restaurants, and other amenities surrounding the stadium itself.

The moral arguments against HB2 have been obvious for a long, long time. As the economic arguments continue to stack up, North Carolina’s legislature is running out of defenses for a bill that was indefensible to begin with.

(Via LGBTQNation / Associated Press, USA TodayCharlotte Observer, and SB Nation; image via Shutterstock/Nagel Photography)

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