The National Collegiate Athletic Association said Thursday that it is “especially concerned” by the passing of a controversial Indiana law that critics argue gives businesses the right to refuse service to gay people.
The N.C.A.A. is one of a number of organizations with ties to higher education and plans to host events in Indiana that are speaking out against the law -- known as S.B. 101 -- as college sports officials, educators and pundits call on the groups to boycott the state outright.
“We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees,” Mark Emmert, president of the N.C.A.A., said in a statement. “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. Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce."
The law prohibits state or local governments from "substantially burdening" an individual's ability to fully practice their faith, but those opposed to the law worry its broad language allows business owners the right to refuse service to anyone on religious grounds. While theoretically that does not target only gay couples, legislation like this -- in Indiana and other states -- has come from those who do not want businesses to have to provide any services for same-sex weddings.
The N.C.A.A., which is headquartered in Indiana, is not likely to change the location of its Final Four games at this late stage, but the statement does express a willingness to avoid hosting upcoming N.C.A.A. events in the state. The Big Ten football conference championship game this year is also taking place in Indiana. L.G.B.T. groups this week urged both the Big Ten and the N.C.A.A. to move all sporting events out of the state.
“The sports world must now stand united against such blatant discrimination,” stated the L.G.B.T. Sports Coalition. “While we recognize the impossibility of Indiana-based schools and professional sports teams forgoing home games, we believe any sporting events that can be moved outside the state should be moved. To host a major sporting event in the state, with legitimate venues available elsewhere, would put L.G.B.T. athletes, coaches and fans in harm's way and lend support to the discrimination [against] L.G.B.T. people."
While many praised Emmert's statement, they also wondered why the criticism came so late. The bill had been winding its way through the statehouse for months, and Indiana's governor, Mike Pence, had long vowed to sign it when the legislation reached his desk. "If they had made this statement earlier in the week, it might have made a difference," an Indiana University graduate posted to Facebook. "Why wait until it was signed into law?"
The N.C.A.A. has boycotted states before over ideological differences. South Carolina and Mississippi are banned from hosting most championship games because they still fly the Confederate flag over their statehouses. In 2005, the N.C.A.A. barred about 20 colleges from hosting postseason games over their use of “hostile” Native American mascots. That number has since fallen after teams changed their names or received waivers after getting support from the tribes they were named after.
Last year, the association publicly opposed an amendment to Indiana’s Constitution that would have banned gay marriage. Later that year, a court ruling legalized same-sex marriage in the state.
Critics view the new law as a reaction to that ruling. Supporters, including Governor Pence, say the law is not about discrimination, but about protecting the religious freedom of individuals and business owners against government interference.
“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action," Pence said in a statement.
Legal experts are split on what the law’s ramifications will be. Similar laws exist in 19 other states, but critics argue none are as sweeping as Indiana’s.
“The potential discrimination in all of these states raises serious concerns for all of us who believe in social justice,” Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, said in a statement Thursday. “We are monitoring the situation in Indiana closely and will consider a range of options affirming our commitment that every member should experience the conference without fear of discrimination.”
NASPA’s 2016 meeting is scheduled to take place in Indianapolis.
Following its well-received hosting of the Super Bowl in 2012, the state’s capital has become an increasingly popular city for conventions and sporting events.
The Digital Public Library of America’s DPLAfest is scheduled to take place there in April. Educause will host its annual conference, one of the largest educational-technology gatherings in the country, there in October.
“In the wake of Indiana S.B. 101, I want to emphasize that D.P.L.A. strongly opposes discrimination against L.G.B.T. and all human beings,” tweeted Dan Cohen, the executive director of D.P.L.A. “We are working to ensure that all feel welcome at DPLAfest, and that DPLAfest venues, hotels and restaurants do not discriminate.”
Educause also said it will not relocate this year’s conference, despite requests from educators and other attendees. The venue has been booked since 2009. Ron Zwerin, director of marketing at Educause, said the organization found the law “concerning.”
“Educause, as an organization, fully supports diversity in higher education, inclusive of race, color, gender and sexual orientation,” Zwerin said. “While the S.B. 101 legislation emerged well after the decision was made about the location of the 2015 conference, we do take such issues into account when evaluating potential conference sites, and will continue to do so.”