Sidelined: LGBT laws, NCAA policy could keep teams at home
Teams could pull out of scheduled NCAA events this spring because of new state laws in North Carolina, Mississippi and Tennessee while the sport's governing body's demands for discrimination-free environments at the places where its events are held won't take effect until the fall.
Though there are many potential unknowns before the measure takes effect, 27 NCAA championships are scheduled this spring and some state laws are already on the books. The decision whether to participate are not being made by coaches or athletic departments.
A Minnesota state university system banned its athletic teams from traveling to tournaments in North Carolina, which passed a law that opponents say can allow discrimination against LGBT people. Most of the schools in the system are Division II or III level; the University of Minnesota, a member of the Big Ten, is not one of them.
The decision means that one of the top baseball teams in Division II, St. Cloud State - ranked No. 3 in one of the top 25 polls - will likely stay home and forgo the opportunity to reach its first Division II World Series later this month in Cary, North Carolina.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said system leaders are in the process of reconsidering the ban, and St. Cloud State President Earl Potter is hopeful a resolution is reached.
He said in a statement Wednesday that the school will ''not engage in any speculation at this point'' because the NCAA ''is tracking this situation and is working to determine how many teams might be affected by such bans.''
The NCAA will require sites hosting or bidding on both its predetermined and merit-based events to show how they will provide an environment that is ''safe, healthy and free from discrimination.''
Spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said the NCAA is looking for the best way to implement the measure.
What they decide is a concern for people like Scott Dupree, the executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance. His group helps with the bidding on and organizing of sporting events in the North Carolina Triangle. He said organizations that host or bid on games will have to complete a form from the NCAA outlining its anti-discrimination requirements.
''The question is, what specifically is that form going to require of cities and hosts, and is that something we'll be capable of meeting?'' Dupree said. ''I know they'll ask that we guarantee a championship environment that is free of discrimination. And of course we have been doing that in the past, for years, with no problem. We have a proven record in that regard.
''But what if the NCAA comes back to us and says, `Well you're promising all of this, but the fact is you still have a law on the books that allows for discrimination.' That's my concern,'' Dupree added.
In adopting its measure, the NCAA said it was following the actions of legislatures in several states but did not identify them. In addition to North Carolina, Mississippi and Tennessee have passed similar laws.
The anti-discrimination policy seems to close a loophole in previous NCAA directives.
Though schools were not allowed to host predetermined events if their state governments flew the Confederate battle flag, schools in those states - Mississippi and South Carolina, until it took down the flag last year - were able to host the merit-based, non-predetermined events like the FCS playoffs and baseball regionals.
Officials at the University of Memphis, the host for the 2017 men's basketball South Regional, say the NCAA will determine if a new Tennessee law will affect those plans. Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill that allows mental health counselors to refuse to treat patients based on the therapist's religious or personal beliefs.
In Mississippi, a law goes into effect July 1 that will allow government workers, religious groups and some private businesses to cite religious beliefs to deny services to LGBT people. Three universities in the state - Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Southern Miss - have some of the nation's top baseball teams and could be in line to host NCAA regionals next month.
North Carolina State also features one of the nation's top college baseball teams, playing in the state at the center of the issue.
Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill that prevents local governments from passing their own anti-discrimination rules covering the use of public accommodations. That came in response to Charlotte leaders approving a measure that allowed transgender people to use the restroom aligned with their gender identity. The law blocks local and state protections for LGBT people and takes away people's ability to use state law to sue over workplace discrimination.
The U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday in a letter to McCrory that the North Carolina law violates civil rights protections and can't be enforced, putting the state in danger of losing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal school funding.
Supporters have defended the law as a common-sense measure that keeps men from using women's restrooms. North Carolina Republican House Speaker Tim Moore said the NCAA should interpret it to ''see that this bill is in no way discriminatory.''
A showdown is looming. In the 2016-17 academic year, at least six NCAA events are scheduled to be played in North Carolina, the highest profile being the first round of the men's basketball tournament in Greensboro.
The law also has led to a public and business backlash that goes beyond the NCAA.
The NBA could move the 2017 All-Star game out of Charlotte. Performers from Bruce Springsteen to Pearl Jam have canceled shows out of protest, and Paypal called off plans to create an operations center in Charlotte that would have employed 400 people.
Associated Press Writer Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina, and AP Sports Writers Michael Marot in Indianapolis, Eric Olson in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.