Earlier this year, the North Carolina and Mississippi state legislatures passed differing, yet spiritually kindred legalish social measures geared toward freeing the bigoted consciences of those who would openly discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community in their states. The bills are and were wholly unnecessary at best, discriminatory on their face, and dangerous at worst.
In response to, and repudiation of, these legally dubious items of democratic process, the NCAA's Board of Governors last week announced that states would need "to demonstrate how they will provide an environment that is safe, healthy, and free of discrimination, plus safeguards the dignity of everyone involved in the event." The provision will apply to "sites hosting or bidding on NCAA events in all divisions—from the Men’s and Women’s Final Fours to educational events such as leadership development conferences." This means that potential hosting sites for the Final Four and NCAA Baseball Tournament regional rounds can be denied to North Carolina and Mississippi, if their legalized discrimination measures remain in place.
The NCAA's announcement followed on the heels of the NBA's similar proclamation, which threatened to move next year's All-Star festivities out of North Carolina should HB-2 still sit on the books.
BREAKING: US Justice Department says North Carolina's law limiting protections for LGBT people violates federal civil rights laws.— The Associated Press (@AP) May 4, 2016
That it invokes organs like the NBA and NCAA issuing warnings of this sort to inspire the repealing of these laws -- and not, you know, the collective goodwill of those states' citizens and lawmakers -- isn't so surreal as it may seem, especially given that the threats of event-removal are geared toward hitting North Carolina and Mississippi in their economic teeth, however glancing those punches may be.
But as the University of Missouri's football team showed us last fall, student-athletes can be effective vehicles of sociopolitical change.
Which brings us to Ole Miss, Southern Miss and Mississippi State baseball, the latter of whom will almost certainly be hosting their regional tilt come playoff time in May. As of the latest Baseball America projections, all three major Mississippi schools are in contention to host during the first round of the college baseball tournament. The NCAA's new policy won't go into effect until next school year, meaning Mississippi schools' hosting chances aren't in jeopardy this season.
Ole Miss, Southern Miss and Mississippi State should therefore refuse to host their postseason baseball tournaments.
The schools' athletics directors should ask for hosting sites to be moved to a neighboring state with no such legalized hate on the books. As a preemptive statement endorsing the NCAA's new rule, and as a vociferous rejection of HB-1523, and as a show of solidarity for gay and transgender Mississippians, and as acknowledgement to the rest of the country that, yes, HB-1523 is dangerous and retrograde and exclusionary, the schools' athletics directors should beg off hosting their regionals if the opportunity arises.
Host sites in neighboring Louisiana, Tennessee or Alabama -- which, thankfully, haven't gone down the same roads as Mississippi and North Carolina -- are readily available. And furthermore, since every team except the host squad must travel to the host site already, moving the host venues detracts very little from their top-seed advantage.
Moving host sites does not make activists out of the coaches, players or administrators.
The activism was done when backwards interest groups lobbied for these unnecessary bills in the first place. Refusing to host a regional or super-regional is not a call for picking up your toys and going home, either. It instead rings as a hearty endorsement of, and compliance with, the NCAA's policy on equality and inclusiveness -- one year in advance.
Sports are always already political and politicized, and moving host sites is a powerful statement of inclusiveness in collegiate athletics. Moving host sites would place immediate pressure on Governor Phil Bryant and his collectively wrong-headed state legislature. Doing so would endear both programs to the US at large, 68 percent of which already sees no issue with gay people marrying whomever they wish. Doing so does not make the players, coaches and staff activists so much as decent, caring humans. Doing so would merely fall into lockstep with the statements already released by the schools' chancellors.
The obstacles and drawbacks to moving host sites out of Mississippi are manifold, yes.
From a sheer practicality and tradition standpoint, Ross Bjork and his opposites at Southern and State have no incentive to leave Mississippi for their regional tilts. Such a show throws a wrench into the fairly well-running machine that is the College World Series. The organizational barriers essentially preclude such a move in any case.
Furthermore, opting out of hosting in Oxford, Starkville and Hattiesburg could be seen as a punishment of fans and students who otherwise wouldn't need to travel during regionals weeks. Moving host sites places undue burden on those programs' supporters (albeit after Spring semesters have ended), all in the name of what is essentially protest.
And further, and perhaps most salient here, moving out of Mississippi would probably do very little in the minds of Governor Bryant and the state legislature toward repealing the law. They could, and undoubtedly would, cast the schools' revolt as a petty rebellion, as a perfect moment for STICK TO SPORTS, KIDS, and that'd be a highly effective campaign. No longer outside agitators meddling in Mississippi's business, but they fled and became the outsiders, might run the thinking, and probably nothing would change.
It's unlikely that Mississippi's college baseball programs will go with the admittedly strident plan laid out here, but the traces and possibility of it are available to Ole Miss, Southern Miss and Mississippi State higher-ups. Official statements from the universities' chancellors are reassuring on their own, but what if the Rebels, Golden Eagles and Bulldogs could give them real teeth?