Spur of the Moment: Specter of another NCAA ban, this time north of the state line

NCAA men's basketball tournament games are scheduled for Greensboro in 2017 and Charlotte in 2018. (File/AP)

COLUMBIA — South Carolina spent years in NCAA purgatory because of the presence of the Confederate flag on the statehouse grounds. Could North Carolina be next because of HB2?

One day after the NBA moved its All-Star Game from Charlotte due to the effects of a bill limiting anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in North Carolina, the NCAA began demanding that any cities interested in hosting future championships fill out a survey which includes questions about discrimination laws and bathroom choice.

This questionnaire covers not just bid-based championships, like the men’s NCAA basketball tournament, but also merit-based postseasons like those in baseball and women’s basketball. The latter were still allowed in South Carolina during the NCAA’s moratorium in the Palmetto State, which ended last year after the Confederate banner was removed from the statehouse grounds.

In the crosshairs now is the Old North State, which on Thursday lost the NBA All-Star Game due to House Bill 2, and now could very well have college championship events in the state placed in jeopardy. The NCAA questionnaire is blunt: among other things, it asks, “Does your city, county/parish and/or state regulate choice of bathrooms or locker rooms that may affect student-athletes, coaches, administrators, or game officials during the Event?” and “Does your city, county-parish and/or state regulate choice of bathrooms that may affect fans attending the Event?”

For cities in North Carolina, the answer to both is currently yes. Potential future bidding cities have until Aug. 12 to return the questionnaire, and currently-awarded host cities will have a separate deadline to be announced later. This follows the April move by the NCAA’s Board of Governors to adopt new requirements for host sites, which now must “demonstrate how they will provide an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination, and also safeguards the dignity of everyone involved in the event.”

Of course, our dear Palmetto State, as is its nature, could still yet find a way to wriggle itself into this given that it’s one of several states suing the federal government over transgender bathroom guidelines. This comes as Columbia is making a push to land early rounds of the NCAA men’s tournament, the Gamecocks are actively pursuing an NCAA men’s golf regional, and home postseason baseball and women’s basketball games have become a staple at USC.

But at least right now, North Carolina would seem to have the most to lose. According to USA Today, the state is scheduled to host at least 20 NCAA championship events in the next two-plus years, including first- and second-round games of the men’s basketball tournament in Greensboro in 2017 and Charlotte in 2018. NCAA first/second rounds or regionals have been held in North Carolina cities in nine of the past 11 years. The Big Dance is as much a fixture north of the border as that inedible vinegar-based barbecue.

For South Carolina, having prospective NCAA men’s tournament games taken away was embarrassing. For North Carolina, it would be demoralizing. While the presence of this questionnaire doesn’t guarantee the NCAA will begin denying or pulling championship events from the Old North State, the timing is impossible not to miss. The NBA sent a strong message Thursday, and perhaps set an example for the NCAA to follow.

And if that happens, what comes next? Conferences began to honor the NCAA ban in South Carolina, forcing the ACC baseball tournament to move from Myrtle Beach. That same event is scheduled to be back in Durham, N.C., next season. The ACC football championship is again set for Charlotte in 2016. While the ACC men’s basketball tournament begins a three-year foray into the northeast, it’s slated to be back in Charlotte and Greensboro in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

That’s a ways down the road, but South Carolina found itself mired in the NCAA dark ages for over a decade, and over a flag, much less a state law limiting protections for certain groups of people. The NCAA questionnaire asks that prospective host cities attach copies of any laws that might interfere with a non-discriminatory championship experience. Former Duke star Jay Williams tweeted Friday that the NCAA needs to follow the NBA’s lead, and ban men’s tournament games scheduled for North Carolina.

Again, no guarantees that will happen. And yet, the escalation on the NCAA’s part is evident. South Carolina spent years being castigated as it watched NCAA championships go to other states due to a political stand. And North Carolina has much, much more to lose.