This weekend, tens of millions of viewers will tune in to watch the Final Four of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in Indianapolis, Ind. The state has turned into a battleground over Senate Bill (SB) 101, commonly referred to as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that was passed on. SB 101 allows Indiana businesses to refuse service to individuals that violate their religious practices. Many opponents believe that the bill is specifically targeting the LGBTQIA community. With such a large stage set, we believe that the NCAA must take a stand against the blatantly-discriminatory law that was just passed in Indiana. The final three games of the NCAA tournament must be moved to show that an organization representing over 450,000 student athletes will not stand for discrimination of any kind.
The NCAA represents hundreds of thousands of students of differing races, religions and sexual orientations. It is also an organization that should strive to be a role model to the student athletes that they represent and the millions of viewers who will be watching this weekend. It is not, as many would like to believe, merely a passive organization without greater cultural influence.
The NCAA tournament in 2015 will not actually be affected by the recent law passed in Indiana that many believe will open up the door to legal discrimination by businesses, as the law will go into effect after this weekend. Instead, this marks an opportunity for this non-profit organization to take an active stance against a discriminatory law and protect the students that it serves. It sets a precedent for future events held by the NCAA, including the Final Four of the NCAA Women’s Basketball that is to be set in Indiana as well.
Many opponents of moving the Final Four have come out, often with the argument that sports should not be made political. Sports, however, are undeniably a part of the political realm, whether spectators want them to be or not. Professional sports leagues were the front lines for integration throughout the 1900s, with black athletes and coaches fighting for the right to participate and then for equal roles.
There is even precedent over choosing event locations based upon political stances within the history of the NCAA. In 2001, the organization imposed a ban on all post-season events at a predetermined site within South Carolina and Mississippi until the Confederate Flag was removed from the State Capitol of each state. Viewers will still not see March Madness games hosted in either one of these places.
The NCAA has been presented with an opportunity to combat discrimination, thereby best representing their student athletes and serving as a positive role model for the millions of viewers. Thus far, it has taken a tepid stance by saying, “We will work diligently to assure student athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week’s Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill.”
Administration within the NCAA must see their actions beyond simply protecting attendees of the 2015 Final Four. Instead, they need to understand both the implications of keeping March Madness in Indiana and in the potential impact that they could have by taking a stance and moving the games.
We believe that SB 101, or any other legislation that serves to promote discriminatory practices, should not exist. However, since SB 101 cannot be repealed before the Final Four is played, the California Aggie Editorial Board urges the NCAA to move the tournament regardless of the logistical challenges presented.
Graphic by Jennifer Wu.