CLEMSON, S.C. (WNCN) – The Atlantic Coast Conference announced Wednesday that it will be pulling all 10 of its neutral site championships for 2016-17 from the state of North Carolina due to House Bill Two.
As a result, Cary will lose tennis and women’s soccer championships; Greensboro will lose swimming and diving championships as well as women’s golf and women’s basketball championships; Durham will lose the baseball championships; Stanly County will lose the men’s golf championships; and Charlotte will lose the football title game.
“The ACC presidents engaged in a constructive, wide-ranging and vigorous discussion of this complex issue over the past two days,” said Clemson University President James P. Clements, chair of the ACC Council of Presidents. “The decision to move the neutral site championships out of North Carolina while HB 2 remains the law was not an easy one but it is consistent with the shared values of inclusion and non-discrimination at all of our institutions.”
Last year’s ACC football championship game’s attendance in Charlotte was 74,514. The Queen City had hosted the event for six straight years.
The Durham Bulls Athletic Park has hosted the baseball championships over the last two seasons, exceeding 60,000 in attendance, and was set to host the next two championships.
A statement sent from the Durham Bulls read, in part, “We understand the conference’s position, and support our partner’s decision to remove those championships from North Carolina. We look forward to a resolution of this issue, so that we can welcome the tournament back to Durham in future years. We have opposed House Bill 2 from the beginning, and continue to share that sentiment.”
Mike Birling, general manager of the Durham Bulls, told CBS North Carolina that it hurts to miss out on all the teams and fans visiting Durham.
“The ACC footprint has been huge,” Birling said. “This past year was a tremendous success for both the ACC and for us in terms of getting fans to come to downtown Durham, to come to the Triangle, to come into all the hotel rooms.”
Businesses in the American Tobacco Campus right next door agree. “(It’s) a severe impact to not only the area, but me personally,” said Bryan Brown, the senior manager of Cuban Revolution restaurant and bar. “It’s going to take a dip in my salary as well as all the other employees that work here.”
COMPLETE COVERAGE: House Bill 2
A joint statement from the ACC Council of Presidents, released Wednesday afternoon, read: “We believe North Carolina House Bill 2 is inconsistent with these values, and as a result, we will relocate all neutral site championships for the 2016-17 academic year.”
ACC Commissioner John Swofford said the ACC Council of Presidents made it clear that its opposition to any form of discrimination is paramount.
“Today’s decision is one of principle, and while this decision is the right one, we recognize there will be individuals and communities that are supportive of our values as well as our championship sites that will be negatively affected,” Swofford said. “Hopefully, there will be opportunities beyond 2016-17 for North Carolina neutral sites to be awarded championships.”
N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R) of Cleveland County said House Bill Two is not about discrimination.
“No one ever wants to lose events under any circumstances, but these organizations are certainly entitled to host their events wherever they choose,” Moore said in a statement. “The truth remains that this law was never about and does not promote discrimination. We will continue to advocate that North Carolina is a great place to live, do business, hold events and to visit.”
The neutral site championships (in date order) are: women’s soccer, football, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, women’s basketball, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s golf, men’s golf and baseball.
New locations will be announced later. The question now is what states might host the events. In the past, Gov. Pat McCrory has tried to encourage people to wait for the courts to rule on the lawsuit before pulling events from the state.
“The issue of redefining gender and basic norms of privacy will be resolved in the near future in the United States court system for not only North Carolina, but the entire nation,” Gov. McCrory said in a statement late Wednesday afternoon. “I strongly encourage all public and private institutions to both respect and allow our nation’s judicial system to proceed without economic threats or political retaliation toward the 22 states that are currently challenging government overreach.”
Half of all states are now battling the administration, through several lawsuits, over the culturally divisive issue of transgender students and whether they should be permitted to use the restrooms of their choice.
Rep. Paul Stam of Wake County said that in addition to the states suing over the issue, there are 28 states with bathroom policies similar to North Carolina.
“This is political theater by the NCAA and ACC,” said U.S. Rep Richard Hudson (R) of North Carolina’a 8th District. “If these multi-million dollar, tax-exempt organizations were interested in social change and not making a political statement, they would proceed with their marquee events in North Carolina and enact any transgender bathroom policy they wanted. This blatant political move – less than two months before the election – brings into question their tax-exempt status. This is an avenue we intend to explore.”
Rep. Nelson Dollar (R) of Wake County said that he’s disappointed in the action and that North Carolina is being held to a different standard.
He questions why the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four was held in Houston, a city which overturned an anti-discrimination ordinance. But Dollar strikes a more conciliatory tone than some of his colleagues. “There are some options that I believe could bring all of the sides together and address the broad concerns from a number of perspectives,” Dollar said.
One Republican, Sen. Tamara Barringer of Wake County is now calling for the repeal of HB2. “I do not want men or boys legally to be able to share the same locker rooms or bathrooms with my 16 year old daughter and her classmates or teammates,” she said. “However, if we want to preserve the proud heritage of North Carolina, it is time for our leadership to consider a substantial and immediate repeal of HB2.”
Rep. Chris Sgro (D) of Guilford County, the only openly gay member of the General Assembly, says it is well past time for the bill to be repealed. “This is not just hurting the economy of North Carolina,” Sgro said, “It’s also hurting our representation and our grand tradition of college basketball and other sports here in the state of North Carolina.”
He said when the ACC, NCAA and NBA all cancel events, “we have a problem.”
In a joint statement, the Chancellors of N.C. State and UNC said they appreciate that the Council of Presidents chose to keep the ACC championships that are to be held on ACC campuses. UNC will host the softball championships while N.C. State will host the wrestling and cross country championships. In addition, Duke will host the fencing championships while Wake Forest will host the field hockey championships.
“However, we regret today’s decision will negatively affect many North Carolinians, especially in the affected host communities,” wrote Chancellor Randy Woodson of N.C. State and Chancellor Carol Folt of UNC. “UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State remain steadfast in our commitment to welcoming and supporting all people. Our policies protect students, faculty and staff from discrimination, regardless of age, color, disability, gender identity, genetic information, national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or veteran status.”
Scott Dupree, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, said it has been a unprecedented and historically bad week for the sports event industry in North Carolina.”Probably the worst ever in terms of lost business and damage to our brand,” Dupree said. “Once the NCAA made its announcement on Monday, this ACC decision was inevitable. Looking ahead, I am very concerned about other sports organizations that may be next in line.”
The Mayor of Cary wrote letters to the NCAA and ACC on Wednesday in which he said the town would not try to recoup lost revenues from the organizations.
“… we will not be a party to such actions despite our disappointment in losing several hosting opportunities,” Mayor Harold Weinbrecht Jr. wrote.
Bubba Cunningham, UNC’s director of athletics, he respects the decisions of the NCAA and the ACC. “However, we are disappointed that 10 ACC neutral-site events will be moved out of state because of the negative effects those decisions have on student-athletes, fans and numerous host communities,” he said. “We are hopeful that these issues are resolved quickly and the championship events are able to return to our state.”
UNC System President Margaret Spellings released a statement, which reads, in part, “UNC institutions do not discriminate on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, and we are fully committed to being open and welcoming to individuals of all backgrounds. We remain caught in the middle of this issue and welcome a speedy resolution by the court.”
This blow to North Carolina follows the NCAA decision to pull seven championships from the state due to House Bill 2 concerns.
Some Democratic state lawmakers called for a special session after the NCAA announcement, but there is no indication Republicans will agree to it.
The neutral site championships impacted include:
Women’s Soccer: finals & semifinals were scheduled for November 4 & 6 at the WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary
Football: scheduled for December 3 at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte
Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving: scheduled for February in Greensboro
Women’s Basketball: scheduled for March 1-5 in Greensboro
Men’s and Women’s Tennis: the Cary Tennis Park was scheduled to host this on April 26-30
Women’s Golf: scheduled for April 21-23 at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro
Men’s Golf: scheduled at Old North State Club in New London on April 21-23
Baseball: scheduled for May 23-26 at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park