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The power of collegiate athletics

A long, long time ago, tobacco was big business in North Carolina.

Lobbyists from the state’s major tobacco companies were frequent visitors to the hallways and offices of Tar Heel legislators. Politicians seeking election (or re-election) could often rely on contributions from tobacco companies to help fill their campaign war chests.

The same scenario played out on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Deals were made in smoke-filled back rooms.

The tobacco industry began losing its political grip when the U.S. Surgeon General, in 1964, made public for the first time the health risks of the product. Then, just a few years before the turn of a new century, the tobacco giants opted to end litigation over Medicaid lawsuits when they agreed to a $206 billion settlement with 46 states.

Fast forward to 2017. Now it appears there’s a new powerful lobby to deal with, but not one we would typically expect to wield such policy-making muscle.

Less than 24 hours before the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) various committees were scheduled to select championship tournament sites (for all college sports) over the span of 2018-2022, a bi-partisan majority vote in the North Carolina House of Representatives and Senate repealed a controversial law placed in the books last year.

House Bill 2 – a legal document also known as the “Bathroom Bill” that limited protections for the LGBT community – had ruffled the feathers of numerous businesses, organizations and national entertainers since its adoption last year. Among its detractors was the NCAA. A few months after the passage of HB 2, the NCAA Board of Governors voted to relocate seven NCAA championships already scheduled in North Carolina for 2016-17, saying they did so, “because of the cumulative impact HB 2 had on local communities’ ability to assure a safe, healthy, discrimination-free atmosphere for all those watching and participating in our events.”

Atlantic Coast Conference officials followed suit, moving its 2016 football championship game from Charlotte to Orlando, Fla. The NBA also jumped onboard the anti-HB 2 bandwagon and moved its 2016 All-Star game out of Charlotte.

Did the March 30 vote cast by our legislators to repeal HB 2 have anything to do with returning North Carolina to the good graces of the NCAA? Let’s consider two facts here before answering that question.

(One) Previous attempts to overturn the bill were met by opposition from our state’s Democrats and Republicans. It appeared all they could do at that point was agree to disagree. NOTE: Several of those compromises to end HB 2 failed to make it out of committee meetings (meaning they never came to the floor of either the House or Senate for a full vote).

(Two) Over a span of just 24 hours last week, an HB 2 compromise rose from its proverbial death bed and was rushed through both chambers of the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Please note that the latter fact was debated and approved less than 24 hours before the NCAA was to move forward in its effort to choose championship sites for the next five years. Had our General Assembly chose to delay a repeal of HB 2, the NCAA would have most definitely painted North Carolina sites out of the championship-hosting picture until at least 2023.

We will not find out until April 18 if last week’s HB 2 repeal is enough to appease the NCAA. That’s the scheduled date where the NCAA is expected to release its list of championship tournament sites.

If there are any North Carolina locations on that list, then we need to mention the NCAA in the same breath with those old-time tobacco lobbyists when it comes to those who can brag of having vast political power.

 

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

 

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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