Until now, the public posture of the Atlantic Coast Conference toward North Carolina’s highly controversial HB2 bill has been to commit to nothing and punt the football as far down the field as possible.
But the ACC’s time to on the sidelines has come to an end.
With the NCAA’s decision on Monday to pull events from the state — including the first and second rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament in March — the ACC can no longer wait to make its views clear.
Commissioner John Swofford either needs to align with the NCAA and pull events out of the state due to HB2 — a law that strikes down protections for the LGBT community — or explain why the league is tacitly in support of the bill.
Because at this point, with both the NBA and the NCAA pulling major sporting events out of the state due to HB2, the ACC deciding not to follow suit with its football championship game and future basketball tournaments would almost be an act of defiance.
To be clear, ACC presidents and athletics directors absolutely have the right to make that choice. But they need to make it, and they need to be transparent about it.
As of Monday night, the ACC had not fulfilled a request for comment. In April, Swofford told the ACC Network he was happy the league and the NCAA were in the same place on the issue, which is no longer true. In both July and August, Swofford told reporters that the ACC — which is based in Greensboro, N.C. — didn’t want to make any premature decisions.
By now, the ACC is in no danger of that.
Complicating matters even further is Governor Pat McCrory’s bid for re-election in November along with many of the state legislators who voted for the bill. Then, most likely, years of court cases ahead.
Like it or not, the state of North Carolina has brought sports and entertainment to the intersection of its politics. Concerts have been pulled out of the state in protest of HB2. The NBA move this season’s All-Star Game to New Orleans. And now, Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State will not play NCAA basketball tournament games in Raleigh, Charlotte or Greensboro anytime soon.
In North Carolina, that’s a far bigger deal than Maroon 5 or a one-off with LeBron James and Steph Curry.
People who can put their big money-making events anywhere in the country have decided to avoid North Carolina because they believe the law is discriminatory. Certainly there’s a different sensitivity for the ACC given its history and home base. But that doesn’t exempt Swofford and his presidents from choosing a side, and a failure to follow the NCAA would be tantamount to support for HB2.
People might not like it, but this is how it works and this is how big, powerful organizations help force change. The NCAA had a similar ban for South Carolina because the Confederate flag flew at the statehouse. When it was removed in 2015, so was the boycott.
It would be symbolic and appropriate if the NCAA moved the regional that had been scheduled for Greensboro to Columbia or Greenville, S.C. And it would ensure that conversation about the NCAA’s ability to take a social stand continues.
Meanwhile, it’s time for the ACC to make some choices. As of Monday, silence is no longer good enough.
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