The NCAA will consider North Carolina as a host for championship events again after the state rolled back a law that regulated bathroom access for transgender people.
The governing body said Tuesday its Board of Governors had reviewed moves to repeal the "bathroom bill" and replace it with a compromise law. The Indianapolis-based NCAA offered a lukewarm endorsement, saying the new law "meets the minimal NCAA requirements" while expressing concerns about its provisions.
The NCAA's statement said a majority of the board "reluctantly voted" to allow for consideration of bids from North Carolina during current deliberations for sites running through 2022. Events for the 2017-18 season that have already been awarded to the state—such as opening-weekend men's basketball tournament games in Charlotte—will remain in place.
"We are actively determining site selections, and this new law has minimally achieved a situation where we believe NCAA championships may be conducted in a nondiscriminatory environment," the statement said. "If we find that our expectations of a discrimination-free environment are not met, we will not hesitate to take necessary action at any time."
The North Carolina Sports Association had estimated more than $250 million in potential economic impact from 130 event bids submitted to the NCAA.
The NCAA pulled seven events from the state in September for the 2016-17 season, including men's basketball tournament games from Greensboro in March, in response to the law. Those games were moved to Greenville, South Carolina, which had been banned from hosting events for years before that was lifted following the removal of a Confederate flag from state capitol grounds in 2015.
The NCAA's North Carolina ban didn't affect teams that earn home-court advantage during the course of the season, such as the Duke women's team hosting NCAA tourney games in March.
The NCAA had made it clear that more events already awarded to the state could be relocated, while also saying it would remove North Carolina bids from consideration as it prepared to announce is next wave of site announcements.
But Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed the compromise bill Thursday to repeal elements of the law after passage by the state legislature earlier in the day even while saying it wasn't a perfect solution. That came days after the NCAA said the state was down to its final days to get something done.
The compromise by lawmakers got rid of the provision requiring transgender people to use public restrooms corresponding to their birth certificate but kept state lawmakers in charge of future bathroom policies. The law known as House Bill 2 also had prevented local and state governments from passing nondiscrimination ordinances on categories such as sexual orientation and gender identity. It was replaced by a moratorium on local governments passing them in most cases for nearly another four years.
Cooper, who signed the replacement bill last week, said it was clear that the NCAA had wanted a complete repeal of House Bill 2, as did he. But Cooper has said the new law was the best compromise he could get given the Republicans' veto-proof majorities in the legislature.
"We are glad that the NCAA is going to come back to North Carolina and join us in fighting for more protections and for more ways to keep people from being discriminated against," Cooper told reporters Tuesday.
Asked about the NCAA's lukewarm statement, Cooper said NCAA leaders still "recognized the progress in this legislation and they recognized that even though it wasn't everything they wanted, that it was enough for them to come back and to join us in the fight to help to continue to improve our laws so people can be protected from discrimination."
Republican House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger said in a statement they are "pleased with the NCAA's decision and acknowledgment that our compromise legislation 'restores the state to a landscape similar to other jurisdictions presently hosting NCAA championships.'"
The NCAA move drew immediate criticism from LGBT rights groups Human Rights Campaign and Equality NC, with HRC president Chad Griffin saying the NCAA "simply let North Carolina lawmakers off the hook."
"It is disappointing to see the NCAA backpedal after it stood strong against the deeply discriminatory HB2," Equality NC executive director Chris Sgro said in a statement. "HB142 continues the same discriminatory scheme put forward by HB2 and does little to protect the NCAA's players, employees, and fans. The NCAA's decision has put a seal of approval on state-sanctioned discrimination."
The Atlantic Coast Conference had followed the NCAA's lead last fall, pulling 10 neutral-site events from the state, including moving the football championship game from Charlotte to Orlando, Florida.
But the ACC said Friday its Council of Presidents had voted to again consider North Carolina sites to host events. And that also ensured events already set for the state for the 2017-18 season would remain in place, meaning the football title game would return in December to Charlotte since it was contractually set to run there through 2019.
Speaking at the Final Four on Thursday, NCAA President Mark Emmert said the governing body would review the changes in hopes of reaching a quick decision by early this week.
"I'm personally very pleased that they have a bill to debate and discuss," Emmert said then. "The politics of this in North Carolina are obviously very, very difficult. But they have passed a bill now and it'll be a great opportunity for our board to sit and debate and discuss it."