In continuing fallout from the North Carolina legislature’s decision to pass House Bill 2, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced Wednesday it would move its neutral site championships out of North Carolina for the 2016-17 season. The law prevents local municipalities from passing protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Also, public schools must require bathrooms or locker rooms be designated for use only by biological sex.
The NCAA announced on Monday that it would also be moving its championships out of the state in the forthcoming year. ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in a statement, “The ACC Council of Presidents made it clear that the core values of this league are of the utmost importance, and the opposition to any form of discrimination is paramount. Today’s decision is one of principle, and while this decision is the right one, we recognize there will be individuals and communities that are supportive of our values as well as our championship sites that will be negatively affected.”
In a state with multiple ACC schools and several frequently used “neutral” sites, meaning a location theoretically without a home court advantage, the move is likely a big hit economically for the Tarheel State. Charlotte has played host to the ACC football championship since 2010 with attendance averaging near 70,000. Charlotte’s Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated that the championship brought $32 million to the city last year.
Perhaps the ACC’s most followed event, the men’s basketball championships, are slated to be in Brooklyn this year so that will not be a loss. But it’s not just the big ticket items that will be moving. Women’s soccer, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s golf, and baseball are all affected. These all have lower attendance than football or basketball but for towns like Cary and Greensboro, it’s potentially a big hit.
Undoubtedly, states in and outside of the Atlantic Coast Conference are now angling to host the games. The phones at the Greensboro office of the ACC commissioner are likely ringing from both politicians and economic developers. The Georgia Dome or Philips Arena have hosted the ACC basketball championship three times since 2001. The ACC started its football championship in 2005 and Atlanta has yet to host that game but the Georgia Dome has been known to host multiple games in a weekend. One thing Atlanta has working against it – it is the hometown to Georgia Tech so its ability to sell itself as a “neutral” site could be limited.
The actions by the ACC are likely to also impact the debate over the return of the Religious Liberty bill that is almost certainly to reappear in 2017 following a veto from Governor Nathan Deal this past session. One of the bill’s biggest supporters, Senator Josh McKoon, has vowed to bring it back and has received rather favorable feedback from leadership, other than Gov. Deal, including Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle – who may be eyeing a governor run in 2018.