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Missouri, North Carolina could feel NCAA Tournament ban if ‘religious freedom’ proposals pass

Tribune News Service • Apr 1, 2016 at 2:30 PM

HOUSTON — The NCAA currently is playing defense when it comes to so-called “religious freedom” laws — or in the case of Missouri, a constitutional amendment — working their way through statehouses.

Express great concern, as NCAA president Mark Emmert said two days before the Final Four tips off, but wouldn’t take an official position on the proposals, which would allow businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

That passive strategy may soon shift into action.

Harris Pastides, the University of South Carolina president and chairman of the Division I board of directors, said the NCAA could take a stand with teeth.

“I think the membership is inching toward a more proactive stand on the issue,” Pastides said. “I’m sensing among membership and the board a greater interest in making our viewpoints and values more widely known.”

Those widely known viewpoints could come with a club when it comes to college basketball. The NCAA could take its ball and not show up to play regionals in states that have religious freedom laws or amendments.

In some states, the idea of denying government travel to states with discriminatory laws is one thing. But talk about losing an NCAA Tournament regional or other college sports championship event spikes the freak-out meter.

North Carolina and Missouri are two of those states with potential religious freedom laws. They also happened to be two of the busiest NCAA Tournament locations.

The men’s tournament never not spends a weekend in North Carolina, it seems. The state’s not just First in Flight, as its license plate commemorates the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, it’s first in NCAA Tournament games played with 245.

Missouri is the event’s spiritual home, site of the most national and regional championship games. Kansas City continues to hold the distinction of the single busiest city in NCAA Tournament history with 128 games.

College hoops have deep meaning in both places, undoubtedly to some who support the religious freedom proposals. As Emmert reminded, “…the NCAA is an association of 1,100 colleges and universities. There’s a huge diversity of institutional missions and political values that are represented by that membership, as well. So what we have been doing is stating the case very clearly, what does or does not seem consistent with our values as laws have been working their way through the process.”

But he made clear those values a year ago, when Indiana’s passing of a religious freedom bill occurred as the Final Four descended upon Indianapolis. Not just Emmert but the coaches of the participating teams issued a joint statement.

The urgency was obvious. NCAA headquarters sits a few miles from the Indiana statehouse.

“Double importance,” Emmert said. “We have 500 employees who live and work there. So it was even more poignant that we deal with it last year.”

Some believed the NCAA should have relocated the Final Four in protest last year. Logistically that would have been next to impossible. But the NCAA Tournament is scheduled to be played in Greensboro, N.C., and Kansas City in 2017 and in Charlotte, N.C., in 2018.

What’s more, this summer begins a bid cycle for all NCAA championship events, including basketball, for a period beginning in 2018 and beyond.

Cities love these events, and those in Missouri and North Carolina have grown especially fond of the business they bring. So much so, they bid aggressively and land a lion’s share of the championships. No metro area was awarded more than Kansas City’s 16.

Other cities also could experience the NCAA’s cold shoulder.

“I think it’s something very, very important to us all,” Pastides said.

—By Blair Kerkhoff

The Kansas City Star—

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