“We made clear that absent any change in the law we weren’t going back to North Carolina,” Emmert said. “They’ve changed the law. Now the question is, whether or not this new bill has changed the landscape sufficiently that the board’s comfortable in returning to North Carolina.”
The controversial law caused many businesses and sports leagues, including the NBA and Atlantic Coast Conference, to flee the state. While other economic factors may have been more pressing, the abiding passion North Carolinians have for college basketball may have forced the legislature’s urgency more than any single factor.
This month, North Carolina and Duke played preliminary NCAA tournament games in Greenville, S.C., that would have been hosted in Greensboro, N.C. if not for the NCAA's response to the bill, known as House Bill 2, or HB2. North Carolina risked not hosting any tournament games until 2022 if it did not act by Thursday.
Emmert hopes the NCAA will announce a decision early next week. Many civil rights groups criticized the replacement law, House Bill 142, as too similar to House Bill 2. It included a three-year moratorium on local governments enacting nondiscrimination ordinances.
“Nobody made the decision to leave North Carolina casually,” Emmert said. “It was a very, very difficult decision for the board to make, and I’m sure the next decision will be very difficult as well.”
In leaving North Carolina, the NCAA originally cited four reasons: HB2 invalidated any local law that could prevent discrimination against LGBT people; it’s the only statewide law of its kind; it allows government officials to refuse services to LGBT people; and five states and several cities prohibit travel to North Carolina for public employees because of the law.
“They’ve removed some of those now, but not all of them,” Emmert said. “And the question the board will be debating: If you remove two or three of them, is that enough, relative to other states?”
The NCAA also faces slippery questions in how other states interpret the new law. Some states, including California and New York, prohibit state employees from traveling for work to states with restrictive LGBT laws. Albany, for example, cancelled a game at Duke early this season. By hosting an event in a state other states deem to be in violation of its law, the NCAA would wade into murky territory.
“We can’t control what states’ laws are, nor should we,” Emmert said. “All we can do is make sure that we’re making decisions that are grounded upon the right kind of values and providing the best opportunities for our students.”
ACC Commissioner John Swafford echoed Emmert’s stance, saying the conference would “reopen” discussions about hosting league championships and events in North Carolina.
Emmert's comments came as North Carolina, one of college basketball's most iconic programs, prepared to play Oregon in Saturday's national semifinal. UNC Coach Roy Williams has been critical of HB2 and the damage it has caused the state's reputation.
“It was about more than just holding and hosting athletic events,” Williams said Thursday. “And to me, I always said, too, I was very sad because I love the state of North Carolina.”