Human rights groups slam NCAA for bringing tournament back to North Carolina

The NCAA was applauded earlier this year when it took a hardline stance against the infamously prejudiced House Bill 2, North Carolina's law that restricted the rights of transgender people. The law brought national and political blowback, and tens of millions of dollars that would've otherwise gone to the state was lost when major music acts, the NBA and the NCAA all back out of commitments as means of protest against HB 2. 

But now, for the NCAA, a little change goes a long way — and there are activist groups targeting the organization for its waffling. On April 4, after North Carolina legislators changed the language of House Bill 2, turning it into House Bill 142, the NCAA announced that the state would again be eligible for consideration for postseason events.

On Tuesday, the NCAA made its change of heart official by deciding to retain Charlotte as a host for the men's 2018 NCAA Tournament. The city will have duties in the regionals, meaning it will host Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games. Greensboro and Raleigh have also been pegged for tournament hosting come 2020 and 2021. This reward to North Carolina prompted immediate disapproval from two major humans rights groups: the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union. 

The HRC maintains there is "discrimination against LGBTQ people that remains enshrined in state law with HB 142. Because the NCAA Board of Governors requires all bids to include a completed non-discrimination questionnaire, HRC has also submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to North Carolina public universities for all materials related to their bids for NCAA events."

In short: The HRC will be holding the NCAA accountable for making sure it thoroughly went through its bidding and selection process, per its own guidelines. The ACLU has done the same and filed an FOIA request. The ACLU claims neither the NCAA or any of the cities who submitted bids have responded to the inquiry. 

"The NCAA has inexcusably gone back on its promise to ensure all championship games are held in locations that are safe, respectful, and free of discrimination," JoDee Winterhof, a senior vice president with HRC, said. "By rewarding North Carolina with championship games, the NCAA has undermined its credibility and is sending a dangerous message to lawmakers across the country who are targeting LGBTQ people with discriminatory state legislation. In addition to protecting the broader LGBTQ community, the NCAA needs to clearly state how they will be protecting their student athletes, personnel and fans."

The details of HB 142 include all state-run institutions (such as public schools and governmental business) from being required to "adopt" policies that allow for all transgender people to use the bathroom of the sex they identify with. HB 142 was not an eradication of the principles laid out in HB 2.

"It bans local LGBTQ non-discrimination protections statewide through 2020, and substitutes the previous anti-transgender bathroom provisions with a new provision that forbids state agencies, public universities, primary and secondary schools, and cities from adopting policies ensuring transgender people have access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity," per the HRC's release.

More than 77,000 signatures were signed to a petition on behalf of the ACLU, and that petition was sent to the NCAA last week. The timing was not coincidental, as the ACLU passed along the petition right up against the NCAA's deadline for deciding on cities that would host all sanctioned postseason events from 2019-22. North Carolina was awarded 23 total postseason events in Division I, II and III by the NCAA on Tuesday.

"North Carolina's new law does nothing to guarantee that LGBT people will be protected from discrimination," James Esseks, director of the ACLU's LGBT and HIV Project, said. "When the NCAA originally withdrew events from North Carolina, they did so because they claimed to care about 'fairness and inclusion' for college athletes and fans. It's a shame to see that those concerns have already fallen by the wayside."

The NCAA has long established a precedent for punishment in regard to discrimination. Columbia, South Carolina was selected as a future host for the 2019 NCAA Tournament, its first time being a part of the Big Dance since 1970. The gap was, in part, because the state of South Carolina was shut out from any NCAA hosting opportunities until the Confederate Flag was removed from its State House.

After the NCAA took the 2017 NCAA Tournament out of North Carolina (Greensboro was to be a first-weekend host), Greenville, South Carolina was named as the replacement. The thought was that the NCAA would keep its strict stance going forward, but North Carolina's lawmakers, and perhaps other economic factors, allowed for unprecedented leniency. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his seventh season covering college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics and... Full Bio

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