NOTHSTINE: The rapidly expanding political power of college sports

Mar 30

After months and months of bathroom controversy in North Carolina, the biggest political winner of the H.B. 2 fiasco turned out to be the NCAA. To use a sports analogy, “they wiped the floor” with the professional politicians. After the collegiate governing body vowed that the state might be shut out from post-season and championship sporting events for at least five years, including collegiate basketball, a repeal agreement quickly emerged and passed the General Assembly on Thursday.Large elements of the political right and left in the state remain disappointed by the compromise, but agree that loyalty to college basketball trumped principles. “I refuse to bow to the NCAA,” declared Rep. Beverly Boswell. Francis De Luca, president of the Civitas Institute, slammed the compromise, calling the NCAA “social justice bullies,” while calling their tactics “extortionist.” “This proposed bill could set a dangerous precedent for groups trying to impact legislative actions,” De Luca warned. Rep. Bert Jones suggested taking down the flags at the General Assembly and replacing it with an NCAA flag and a white flag.LGBTQ groups seethed over the bill and their wrath rapidly turned from conservatives to Gov. Roy Cooper for capitulating to what many called a “fake repeal” to appease the NCAA. New York ACLU attorney Chase Strangio called Cooper a “pathetic fool” for his part in brokering the agreement. LGBTQ activists across the state and country took to social media to decry that “human rights” is more important than basketball.Some legislators pleaded for more time, pointing out that the timing and optics of the deal looked bad for the governing independence of the state. A smaller block of conservatives asked for a delay until Tuesday to talk to their constituents. But for the majority, it seemed unclear if a delay would be permissible to the NCAA.Unbeknownst to many North Carolinians, they weren’t the only state where the NCAA affected legislation in the past few weeks. Arkansas passed H.B. 1249 on March 22, an expansion of concealed carry to include public colleges and universities. Because the concealed carry of pistols includes sporting events, the Southeastern Conference is asking for an exemption to the bill. “Given the intense atmosphere surrounding athletic events, adding weapons increases safety concerns and could negatively impact the intercollegiate athletics program at the University of Arkansas in several ways, including scheduling, officiating, recruiting and attendance,” said SEC President Greg Sankey.While the SEC request may seem reasonable, even for many Second Amendment proponents, it’s another instance of college sports dictating state legislation. The governor and most Arkansas state senators quickly fell in line for the SEC. For them, amending the bill is preferable to dealing with the possibility of any wrath or economic consequences imposed by a cash-flush SEC. While Sankey hasn’t gone on record to say that not changing the law will jeopardize Arkansas’s membership in the SEC, he has strengthened his hand by not ruling it out either.One can concur with the H.B. 2 repeal compromise and agree too that the role of the NCAA in the decision-making process is setting a dangerous precedent. States already routinely bow to corporations when they do not toe the line on LGBTQ issues, even if that includes exemptions for religious liberty.The NCAA and their powerful conference entities will only be further emboldened by their ability to dictate laws. Cooper himself admitted he begged and pleaded with the NCAA and ACC for more time to secure sporting events and said he believes they will accept the compromise. He only reinforced who held all the cards at the negotiating table.While this state and nation is only becoming more politically and culturally divided, at least a large segment on the right and left came together in agreement that dictating policy over basketball makes for poor leadership. Rep. Carl Ford said the bill is “all about money and basketball. My family’s not for sale, my constituents are not for sale.” It’s only too bad the bipartisan majority that bowed to the NCAA’s timeline doesn’t see it that way.Ray Nothstine is a member of the North State Journal’s editorial board, separate from the news staff. Unlike other newspapers, the North State Journal does not publish unsigned editorials; the author or authors of every editorial, letter, op-ed, and column is prominently displayed. To submit a letter or op-ed, see our submission guidelines.