Now the gloves are coming off.
State legislators who continue to look for ways to express their exasperation with the partial repeal of House Bill 2 -- the “bathroom bill” -- and to assert their principles which spurred it in the first place have turned their attention to potential retaliation against the college athletic behemoths who helped reverse the law.
Even as State House Speaker Tim Moore was deep-sixing another troubling nascent effort — to legislatively defy the Supreme Court’s overturn of the state’s ill-fated same-sex marriage ban — a group of Republican legislators filed a bill that would force state public universities to withdraw from any athletic conference that boycotted the state.
The clear target was the Atlantic Coast Conference, that college athletic league that since the 1950s has helped define intense rivalries among the state’s top universities. The conference’s decision to play no post-season tournament games in North Carolina intensified the pressure that ultimately yielded the compromise to replace HB2 with a less stringent law.
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If the bill proposed Wednesday were to become law, a similar boycott would force the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and N. C. State University out of the conference in which they were founding members. That would upend traditional intense rivalries with Duke University and Wake Forest, unaffected by the state law because they are private schools. It would sunder other Tar Heel and Wolfpack conference rivalries, some dating back decades, some barely a few years old.
One fact is surely worth acknowledging here. Whatever you happen to think about the underlying motivations of the new bill’s sponsors -- and we vigorously disagree with their support of HB2 and its blow to LBGT protections -- there’s an element of turnabout-is-fair-play here. The ACC and the NCAA, which similarly withdrew events from North Carolina, knew that the near-theological devotion of many in the state to their favored sports teams, especially in basketball, would focus attention on the dispute in a more emotional and powerful way than economic boycotts or abandoned business expansions.
Those who would punitively eviscerate the ACC from the other side of the issue are playing the same basketball-obsession card.
Rep. Mark Brody of Monroe, one of the bill’s sponsors, downplayed the impact of any retaliation against the ACC. “I think there are a lot of conferences that wold love to have North Carolina, including having a national championship basketball team join their conference,” Brody said Wednesday, referencing UNC’s six basketball trophies. That’s disengenous at best.
“I don’t want to hurt athletics in North Carolina,” Brody said.
But he would. There may be good reasons to debate the merits of super-sized major-college athletics and the clout of mega-conferences, but this is not by any means the landscape on which to have that debate.