Photo Credit: Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

In speaking with the Associated Press sports editors at their annual meeting with commissioners on Thursday night, NCAA president Emmert acknowledged that HB 142 was “the absolute minimum” the North Carolina legislature could have done to earn back the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and other postseason events, according to USA Today.

On paper, HB 142 repealed HB2—it also hamstrung any future LGBTQ protections by requiring them to pass through the GOP-dominated General Assembly; more important to some, it brought March Madness back to the Tarheel State.

The NCAA president said he recognized the general unhappiness felt by the governor and both conservatives and liberals in North Carolina in the wake of HB 142. Emmert reasoned that the NCAA returned to the state because he and the board felt that the “the governor got as good a deal as they were going to get passed in that legislature.” (This isn’t exactly true—Senate Bill 4 included a six-month moratorium on local ordinances “regulating employment practices or regulating public accommodations or access to restrooms, showers, or changing facilities.” This was an improvement on the three-year stipulation in HB 142; SB4 failed to pass in December, as it wasn’t tagged with an NCAA ultimatum and was thus easily rejected by Democrats thinking they could leverage a better compromise in the coming months.)

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“They kind of did the absolute minimum to earn their way back into the association’s good graces,” Emmert said Thursday at the Associated Press Sports Editors annual meeting with commissioners. “The governor isn’t happy with it. A lot of people aren’t happy with it. ... People who are pro-HB2 aren’t happy with it either. I wound up convinced the governor got as good a deal as they were going to get passed in that legislature.”

Emmert then offered his other excuse for accepting the half-measure, claiming that if the NCAA continued boycotting North Carolina, they’d also have to boycott Tennessee and Arkansas for having similar state statutes in place.

In Tuesday’s release of upcoming NCAA postseason sites, Tennessee was awarded the 2021 men’s basketball tournament regional in Memphis, the 2021 men’s golf regional in Nashville, and the 2020 rowing championships in Oak Ridge. Arkansas came away with the four events of its own, all in Fayetteville—the 2019 cross country regionals, the 2019 golf championships, the 2019 outdoor track preliminaries, and the 2021 indoor track and field championships.

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Both states featured GOP-introduced bills strongly resembling HB2 in recent legislative sessions. In Tennessee, state senator Mae Beavers attempted to pass a bill that would require students in public schools to use the bathroom corresponding with the sex listed on their birth certificate, marking the second time in two years such a bill had been proposed. It was killed in the Senate in March. In Arkansas, state senator Linda Collins-Smith introduced Senate Bill 774, a bill with the same stipulations that was temporarily shelved after being opposed by Republican governor Asa Hutchinson and state tourism groups.

With North Carolina seemingly in-step with its fellow Southern states following the passing of HB 142, the NCAA felt comfortable trusting the NC GOP to maintain their current position on the matter. Emmert promised, though, that if North Carolina takes one more step and crosses the NCAA’s curvy line in the sand, the league will pull their events right back.

“If North Carolina next week calls a special section and re-enacts HB2 like some people want to do, we’re out,” Emmert said. “I guarantee my board and I will sit down and say ‘OK we’ve got other spots.’ We did it once. We’ll do it again.”

Of course, Emmert’s comments and promise for future action would hold a bit more weight had he and the NCAA taken a real stand on this issue and continued boycotting the state for preventing future advances in LGBTQ protections. The majority of the state’s representatives and senators have demonstrated repeatedly that they are not actively working for a fairer future for all their citizens—the North Carolina GOP has continued its attempts to assume the role of the victim in the HB2 saga, already drafting legislation that would pull two founding members, N.C. State and UNC, from the ACC if the conference threatens to boycott again.

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While over 13 public officials from states and major cities have left in place their travel bans to North Carolina for continuing to operate a state legislature hellbent on re-implementing the standards of the 1950s (and 1850s) South, the NCAA, along with the NBA and ACC, was more than ready to accept any deal in which they could print the words “repeal” and “HB2” in their press release, no matter the reality or future impact of the actual legislation. For the financially focused sports businesses, HB 142's technical repeal of HB2 left enough wiggle room for their PR departments to work with to justify returning to a state with deep ties in the ever-important basketball community. And Emmert, despite his outward hemming and hawing indicating otherwise, couldn’t be happier to move on—after all, he’s got bigger North Carolina fish to fry.