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N.C. House Bill Calls for Schools to Leave ACC if Boycott Recurs

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Copyright 2017 News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)
All Rights Reserved

News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)

 

A Republican-sponsored House bill would require North Carolina and N.C. State to withdraw from the ACC if the conference chooses to "boycott" the state.

House Bill 728 was filed Tuesday. Among the four primary sponsors is Rep. Bert Jones (R-Rockingham). The bill is in the House Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations, where bills that do not have GOP leadership support typically do not receive a hearing.

None of the bill sponsors could be immediately reached for comment Wednesday, nor could the ACC or the athletics department at N.C. State.

Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for UNC Chapel Hill, said the school will "monitor the legislation should it move forward to determine its potential impacts."

Although the bill does not mention House Bill 2, analysts and economists say HB 728 is a response to the role the NCAA and ACC played in convincing enough lawmakers to vote for a repeal of the divisive transgender restroom law.

HB 728 also says the General Assembly would have "the final authority regarding the membership status" of any UNC System member for conference affiliation. UNC and N.C. State are charter ACC members since it was formed in May 1953.

The bill could apply to other conferences as well, including the CIAA, which, like the ACC, moved games in the wake of HB 2. If passed, the bill would affect three UNC campuses that are CIAA members: Elizabeth City, Fayetteville and Winston-Salem state universities. Winston-Salem State spokesman Jay Davis said it is premature to provide comment.

"Sponsors of this bill appear to have a bitter taste in their mouths after the ACC and NCAA played an outsized role in the debate over House Bill 2," said Mitch Kokai, a policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation.

"While I suspect that a large group within the General Assembly agrees that these sports organizations had no business interfering in state public policy, I also suspect that a majority of lawmakers have no strong desire to resuscitate this debate."

In the instance that a boycott occurs, universities "shall immediately provide written notice to the conference that the constituent institution intends to withdraw from the conference no later than when the assignment of its media rights expire, unless the conference immediately ends the boycott."

The bill doesn't say what would be considered a boycott.

"I think there are a lot of conferences that would love to have North Carolina, including having a national championship basketball team (UNC) join their conference," bill sponsor Rep. Mark Brody (R-Union) told The News & Observer of Raleigh. "None of the other conferences took this radical approach that the ACC did."

It was unclear Wednesday how much support the bill had. Brody said he is aware HB 728 likely would face a veto from Gov. Roy Cooper if it advances. Cooper led the Democratic effort to repeal HB 2.

"It's astonishing that a part of the legislature is willing to ruin potentially the athletic fortunes and traditions of the two flagship state institutions," said Todd McFall, a sports economist at Wake Forest University. "... Actions like this are why the phrase 'Let bygones be bygones' was created."

Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, a WSSU economics professor, said he doesn't believe the legislature as a whole "wants to revisit this hornet's nest at this time."

In September - six months after the controversial HB 2 became law - the NCAA pulled seven neutral-site championship events from North Carolina for 2016-17, including the first and second rounds of the men's basketball tournament that were moved from Greensboro to Greenville, S.C., and the women's soccer College Cup, moved from Cary to California.

The ACC followed by removing 12 neutral-site events for 2016-17, foremost the football championship from Charlotte to Orlando, Fla., women's basketball tournament from Greensboro to Conway, S.C., and baseball from Durham to Louisville.

The CIAA moved its 2016 football championship from Durham to Salem, Va., as part of pulling eight of 10 events, although it kept its most popular events - the men's and women's basketball tournaments - in Charlotte.

Although several GOP legislators referred to the ACC and NCAA decisions as a boycott, many analysts and economists said the organizations are private businesses and can hold events wherever they choose.

Following the bipartisan-supported repeal of HB 2, with two controversial stipulations in House Bill 142, the ACC agreed the next day to consider N.C. venues again for future neutral-state championships.

The NCAA said April 4 that the repeal bill met minimal requirements for the venues to be considered for its 2018-22 hosting cycle. The NCAA is expected to announce the selected venues Tuesday.

Four HB 728 primary sponsors — Jones, Brody, Jeff Collins of Nash County and Chris Millis of Pender County — voted against repealing HB 2. Collins and Jones graduated from UNC, while Millis graduated from N.C. State.

"I don't want to hurt athletics in North Carolina," Brody said. "I just don't support this action that they've taken to go beyond athletics and legislate to us."

Brody and Millis also are primary sponsors of House Bill 328, filed March 13, which takes aim at the tax-exempt status of the NCAA and the ACC.

The bill alleges that the groups have "exceeded their respective charters by using economic retaliation against North Carolina for the purpose of forcing the General Assembly to adopt social legislation that is not connected to (the groups') core mission."

The NCAA said in a statement that "all conversations that we've had with representatives in the state have been designed to provide information about our championships process and timeline, not take positions on legislation."

HB 328 is in the House Judiciary 1 committee and has not been heard.

Richard Craver is a reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal. Contact him at (336) 727-7376 or rcraver@wsjournal.com

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