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ACC to relocate athletic championships from North Carolina

By Pete Jacobelli

Associated Press

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — The Atlantic Coast Conference has followed the NCAA’s lead and is removing all its athletic championships from North Carolina over a state law limiting protections for LGBT people.

The ACC Council of Presidents voted Wednesday to relocate the league’s championships until North Carolina repeals the law. The decision includes 10 neutral-site championships this academic school year, which means relocating the ACC football title game that was scheduled to be played in Charlotte in December.

No announcement was made on where the championship events will be held.

“The decision to move the neutral-site championships out of North Carolina while HB2 remains the law was not an easy one,” said Clemson President James P. Clements, chairman of the league’s council. “But it is consistent with the shared values of inclusion and non-discrimination at all our institutions.”

On Monday, the NCAA said it was relocating seven of its championships scheduled to be played in the state, including the men’s basketball first- and second-round matchups scheduled for next March in Greensboro, North Carolina.

ACC Commissioner John Swofford said after the NCAA’s decision that his league would review its next steps.

The law requires transgender people to use restrooms at schools and government buildings corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates. It also excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from local and statewide antidiscrimination protections. HB2 was signed into law earlier this year by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who has defended it as a commonsense safety and security measure.

Clements said the leaders had an open, honest dialogue that took in all sides of the issue.

“There are a lot of parts to the discussion, how the community is affected,” the Clemson president said. “I’m really happy with how everybody came together.”

Swofford said the presidents’ choice was made on principle.

“I think it was the right decision. A difficult one in ways, but an easy one in ways considering the principles involved,” he said. “That’s where our presidents laid their bed so to speak, and I think we landed in the right place.”

Swofford said identifying replacement venues is in the early stages, but he hopes to get locations lined up as quickly as possible.

Finding a football stadium as ACC-friendly as Charlotte might be difficult. The championship game’s been played at Bank of America Stadium for the past six seasons with an average attendance of 69,641. In the previous two seasons (2008-09) the game was held at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida and averaged 49,412 spectators.

“We’ll do what we need to do,” Swofford said. “It’s a challenge, our next challenge.”

Football’s not the only sport affected. The ACC planned to hold 14 of its 21 championship events in North Carolina this academic year, with 10 of those at neutral, off-campus, sites and the other four on the campuses of Wake Forest (field hockey), Duke (fencing), North Carolina (softball) and N.C. State (wrestling).

Swofford said ACC would consider the issue again in the spring if nothing changed in North Carolina’s law. Such prohibitions can last for quite some time: The NCAA’s ban on South Carolina hosting neutral-site championships for flying the Confederate flag on Statehouse grounds lasted from 2001 until it came down last summer.

This action by the ACC is the latest in a steady stream of public and business backlash against the law.

The NBA moved its 2017 All-Star Game to New Orleans instead of hosting it in Charlotte as originally scheduled because of the law. Duke’s men’s basketball schedule had to be reconfigured when Albany backed out due to that state’s travel ban, and the Vermont women’s basketball team has canceled a December trip to play North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Entertainers like Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Ringo Starr have canceled plans to play in North Carolina. And PayPal reversed plans to open a 400-employee operation center in Charlotte.

The ACC and NCAA decisions have been a blow to North Carolina’s tourism and business communities, which rely on servicing fans attending major sporting events.

Scott Dupree, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, said the recent announcements by the NCAA and ACC were “unprecedented and historically bad” for the state’s sports event industry.

It was “probably the worst ever in terms of lost business and damage to our brand,” he said.

Following the announcement by the ACC, U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican representing the 8th District, was among the dozens of elected leaders who condemned the move. Hudson went as far as questioning whether the NCAA and ACC should have a tax-exempt status.

“This is political theater by the NCAA and ACC,” Hudson said. “If these multi-million-dollar, tax-exempt organizations were interested in social change and not making a political statement, they would proceed with their marquee events in North Carolina and enact any transgender bathroom policy they wanted. This blatant political move — less than two months before the election — brings into question their tax-exempt status. This is an avenue we intend to explore.”

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore said the ACC’s and NCAA’s decisions were unfortunate. The organizations are entitled to host their events wherever they choose, Moore said.

“The truth remains that this law was never about and does not promote discrimination,” he said. “We will continue to advocate that North Carolina is a great place to live, do business, hold events and to visit.”

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