RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Basketball-mad North Carolina is hoping that its move to roll back its "bathroom bill" will help it avoid another costly hit as the NCAA selects four years of championship sites for a variety of sports.
College athletics' governing body said that it is deciding this week on locations for tournaments through the spring of 2022 and that it wouldn't award any to North Carolina if the law known as House Bill 2 was still on the books.
On Thursday, amid the mounting pressure, the North Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature voted to undo HB2 and sent the measure to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper for his expected signature. But it wasn't immediately clear if the plan would satisfy the NCAA.
Gay and transgender rights activists complained that the measure still denies them protection from discrimination, and they are demanding nothing less than full repeal.
The stakes are high for North Carolina: The Associated Press calculated that the state made $71.4 million from 28 neutral-site NCAA events in the five academic years ending last spring. A potentially more lucrative slate of events is in jeopardy in this latest round of decisions.
HB2 required transgender people to use public bathrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate. It also excluded gender identity and sexual orientation from statewide antidiscrimination protections.
The new bill drops the rule on transgender bathroom use. But it says local governments cannot pass new nondiscrimination protections for workplaces, hotels and restaurants until December 2020.
In addition to sporting events being withdrawn in reaction to HB2, businesses have shelved projects and entertainers such as Bruce Springsteen have canceled shows. An AP analysis this week found that HB2 already will cost the state more than $3.76 billion in lost business over a dozen years.
Cities including Raleigh and Greensboro have submitted 133 bids to host NCAA championship events in such sports as golf, swimming and basketball through the 2021-22 academic year, with a potential economic impact of about $250 million, according to the North Carolina Sports Association.
The NCAA has already pulled seven championship events in baseball, soccer, lacrosse and other sports from North Carolina for the current academic year because of HB2. Also in jeopardy are events for the upcoming school year, including March 2018 NCAA men's basketball tournament games, awarded to Charlotte during a previous round of selections.
As an example of what's at stake, the Greensboro area — a frequent host nicknamed "Tournament Town" — has submitted 55 bids through 2022 that could bring in more than $100 million to the area, according to the Greensboro Convention & Visitors Bureau. Eight events over the five academic years ending in 2015-16 had an economic impact on the Greensboro area of more than $33 million, the bureau said.
Dollars aside, the NCAA sanctions are especially painful for North Carolina, where love of college basketball is part of the state's very identity and where schools like Duke and the University of North Carolina are perennial powerhouses.
"No state loves its college sports more than North Carolina. It's part of our culture, our fabric and our history," Scott Dupree, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, wrote in a February plea to lawmakers. "But sadly, at this moment, the NCAA championships that our citizens love so much are in jeopardy, on the brink of being lost for the long term."
Before Thursday's deal passed, Greensboro businessman and UNC fan John Cohen complained that "the people in Raleigh are playing politics with a reputation that North Carolina worked decades to earn."
Cohen was student manager under legendary UNC coach Dean Smith in the late 1970s and has had season tickets to UNC men's basketball for years. His Tar Heels would have played in Greensboro this month if the NCAA tournament site hadn't been moved to South Carolina because of HB2.
"This isn't a question about who's right," Cohen said. "This is a question about what's best for our state. Let's move on."