RALEIGH, N.C. — The NCAA's decision to pull seven championships out of North Carolina ratchets up the pressure on the college sports-crazy state to repeal its law on bathroom use by transgender people.
Unlike the recent one-time cancellations by the NBA and various rock stars, the move by college sports' governing body could make moderate and conservative voters question whether the price tag for the law has finally become too high.
Economic development officials said the effect of the NCAA's action goes well beyond the projected $20 million in lost revenue from the cancellation of 2016-17 basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, lacrosse and golf events. The ACC football championship, for now scheduled for December in Charlotte, is the last marquee college event left in North Carolina during the 2016-17 season.
"College sports is part of the fabric of North Carolina. It's part of the culture. I can say with confidence that there's no other state in the country that loves its college sports more than North Carolina. That's why it hits so hard and feels so personal," said Scott Dupree, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, which was coordinating four of the events being moved.
The law passed in March requires transgender people to use restrooms in schools and state government buildings that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate. It also excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from statewide antidiscrimination protections.
Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and GOP leaders say the law protects the privacy and safety of women and girls.
On Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers urged McCrory and leaders of the GOP-controlled legislature to call a special session to repeal the law. But chances are slim the Republicans will act. GOP leaders say passing it was the right thing to do.
McCrory decried the NCAA decision and saying the legal system will ultimately decide the issue. "The issue of redefining gender and basic norms of privacy will be resolved in the near future in the United States court system for not only North Carolina, but the entire nation," he said.
Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College, said it will be hard for voters who are passionate about sports to ignore the law's repercussions.
"The blowback may be building up even more," he said.
Mac McCorkle, a Duke University professor and former Democratic consultant, said losing men's basketball tournament games from Greensboro hits hard because college basketball is the "civic religion" in the state that's home to UNC, Duke, N.C. State and Wake Forest.
The Greensboro area was expected to receive a $14.5 million infusion from the tournament, as well as $1.6 million from soccer championships in December that are being moved, said Henri Fourrier, CEO of the Greensboro Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. The soccer, baseball, lacrosse and tennis events taken from Cary will deprive the area of about $2 million, Dupree said.
North Carolina cities are seeking to host scores of other NCAA events over the next six years that could be worth tens of millions.
The NCAA hasn't decided what to do about North Carolina events beyond the academic year. But NCAA president Mark Emmert said Tuesday: "It would have been impossible to conduct championship events in the state with that law in place that lived up to the values and expectations of the member universities and colleges."
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, a former Duke basketball player and a keen critic and observer of the NCAA, said of the decision: "I think what it shows is, one, the NCAA is capable of doing the right thing. And two, when it wants to, it can act quickly. For many years, the excuse for inaction has been the idea that the NCAA is like the United Nations: It's so hard to turn the aircraft carrier around, we've got 1,100 institutions, all that nonsense. So it shows when they want to do something, they can do it and do it quickly."