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ACC will move league championships out of North Carolina, following the lead of the NBA and NCAA

ACC Commissioner John Swofford, originally said the ACC would revisit its neutral site championship venues at a meeting of athletic directors in October, but the NCAA’s announcement this week forced the conference’s hand. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
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The Atlantic Coast Conference announced Wednesday that it will move its neutral-site championships scheduled for this academic year out of North Carolina in response to the controversial state law House Bill 2, which forbids people from using a restroom different from the gender on their birth certificate in government buildings and prevents localities from enforcing anti-discrimination policies.

The decision follows announcements by the NCAA on Monday and the NBA in July that they would not hold showcase events in the state. The ACC’s move has particular resonance: Its league headquarters are in Greensboro and four of its five active charter members are located in the state. But North Carolina’s deep roots in college athletics — its status as the seat of the league, founded in 1953, is unique among major athletic conferences — wasn’t enough to keep the ACC from falling in line.

Could NCAA’s stand in North Carolina lead to questions about event sites elsewhere?

Jay Bilas, a college basketball analyst for ESPN, said in an interview Wednesday that the ACC’s cultural significance is second to its economic influence.

“I don’t know that it matters as much that there are so many institutions that have had such a history in the state of North Carolina as it is that the league itself wields so much economic power,” said Bilas, a former Duke basketball player. “The NBA has already made that decision, the NCAA has made it — I don’t see why the ACC wouldn’t make a similar decision.

“Look, logistically it’s impossible for the University of North Carolina to pick up and move, or for Duke University to pick up and move; they’re not gonna do that. But the conference gets to take its championships and it gets to decide where to put them, and rotates them. To wield that economic power for positive change, that’s perfectly appropriate for the league office to do.”

All four of the conference’s North Carolina-based institutions — North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest and North Carolina State — issued statements lamenting the loss of in-state championships for athletes, fans and host communities while echoing the ACC’s commitment to inclusion.

“We appreciate that the ACC shares our commitment to creating an inclusive atmosphere for all, but we regret that today’s decision will penalize affected host communities and fans throughout the state,” University of North Carolina President Margaret Spellings said in a statement. “Intercollegiate sports and the ACC are integral parts of North Carolina’s economy and way of life. …
We remain caught in the middle of this issue and welcome a speedy resolution.”

The decision, was made during a previously scheduled meeting of the ACC Council of Presidents in Clemson, S.C. It was reached by simple majority vote among members of the Council of Presidents, according to the league office. The ACC has expanded several times since the 1990s and now has 15 members and a geographic footprint stretching from Syracuse and Boston College in the north to Miami in the south.

“The ACC Council of Presidents made it clear that the core values of this league are of the utmost importance, and the opposition to any form of discrimination is paramount,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in a statement Wednesday. “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. Hopefully, there will be opportunities beyond 2016-17 for North Carolina neutral sites to be awarded championships.”

The championships to be relocated, in order of date, are women’s soccer (Nov. 4-6, from Cary), football (Dec. 3 in Charlotte), men’s and women’s swimming and diving (Feb. 15-18 and Feb. 22-25 in Greensboro), women’s basketball (March 1-5 in Greensboro), men’s and women’s tennis (April 26-30 in Cary), men’s and women’s golf (April 21-23 in New London and Greensboro) and baseball (May 23-28 in Durham). A joint statement from the ACC Council of Presidents said all new locations would be announced at later dates.

“As members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the ACC Council of Presidents reaffirmed our collective commitment to uphold the values of equality, diversity, inclusion and non-discrimination,” the statement read. “Every one of our 15 universities is strongly committed to these values and therefore, we will continue to host ACC Championships at campus sites.”

Relocating the upcoming football championship game will be a top priority. Several football stadiums in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic could be targets, including FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

The conference has a relationship with Camping World Stadium in Orlando, which hosts the ACC-affilliated Citrus Bowl. The stadium is scheduled to host high school state football championships the weekend of Dec. 3, but a person familiar with the arrangement said the city of Orlando, which owns the stadium, is interested in hosting the ACC championship. ESPN reported on Wednesday that the ACC will meet this week with Camping World Stadium officials.

FedEx Field, which is owned by the Redskins, has no events currently scheduled for Dec. 3. Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie would not confirm or deny any contact with the ACC about potentially hosting the conference championship, but said Washington is “always interested in bringing in high-quality games, at any level.” FedEx Field has staged several college football games, including a matchup scheduled for Sept. 24 between West Virginia and Brigham Young.

Where will the ACC move its football championship?

For many sports, such as women’s basketball, the ACC’s decision break to move out of North Carolina suspends a longstanding relationship between city and event. The Greensboro Coliseum has held every ACC women’s basketball tournament since 2000, and Bank of America Stadium has held the football title game, which was first played in 2005, every year since 2010 and was expected to do so through 2019.

The Charlotte Sports Foundation estimates the total economic impact of 2015’s football championship was $32.4 million. A crowd announced at 74,514 watched Clemson defeat North Carolina for the title, more than 32,000 hotel rooms were booked and visitors spent $8.4 million in the city.

State Attorney General Roy Cooper, the Democratic candidate in North Carolina’s heated gubernatorial race, focused on that potential economic loss in his statement Wednesday.

“I am incredibly disappointed in the news this week — first we lost the NCAA tournament games, and now we’ve lost the ACC championships,” Cooper said. “It is clear that we cannot wait until November to repeal House Bill 2. This is not just about sports. This is about communities in North Carolina suffering real economic blows. The news this week made it clear that there is no end in sight to the losses we’ll face unless this law is repealed.”

Richard Hudson, a Republican U.S. representative from North Carolina’s 8th district, called the decisions by the NCAA and the ACC’s decision “political theater,” saying that the “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.”

Because of the NCAA’s decision, 2017 will be the first year since 1985 that North Carolina will host neither the ACC men’s basketball tournament, previously scheduled to be held in Brooklyn, N.Y., or the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.