Shared from the 1/10/2017 American Press eEdition

Southland Conference keeping eye on Texas ‘bathroom bill’

Sporting events in North Carolina pulled after passage of similar legislation

Southland Conference commissioner Tom Burnett said the introduction of Texas Senate Bill 6 is “on the radar” of the conference and its membership institutions.

The bill, also known as the Texas Privacy Act, would force transgender people to use public restrooms and locker rooms assigned to their “biological sex” as printed on their birth certificate.

“It’s early but that’s not to say we’re not aware of it, it’s on our radar,” Burnett told the American Press on Monday. “I’m sure we will begin to interact as we get through administrative meetings later this month, into the spring and ultimately at the end of our academic year when some decisions are made about the conference’s future. We’re watching it, that’s for sure.”

The legislation, filed Jan. 5 by Republican Sen. Lois Kolkhorst and later endorsed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, is similar to North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which former Gov. Pat McCroy signed into law March 22, 2016.

Upon its passage, the Atlantic Coast Conference voted to move all neutral-site championship events for the 2016-17 season out of North Carolina, including the ACC Championship football game. The NCAA pulled seven 2016-17 championship events, including first- and second-round men’s NCAA Tournament games, after the bill’s passage.

“Fairness is about more than the opportunity to participate in college sports, or even compete for championships,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement when announcing it. “We believe in providing a safe and respectful environment at our events and are committed to providing the best experience possible for college athletes, fans and everyone taking part in our championships.”

The NBA also pulled its All-Star Game, which New Orleans is now set to host.

North Carolina has reportedly lost almost $1 billion since House Bill 2’s passage.

“This issue is not about discrimination — it’s about public safety, protecting businesses and common sense,” Patrick, a Republican, said in a statement following the bill’s filing.

The Southland, which is headquartered in Frisco, Texas, and has seven member institutions in Texas, and seven total 2016-17 championship events scheduled in that state — baseball, soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s tennis and men’s and women’s golf.

‘It’s early but that’s not to say we’re not aware of it, it’s on our radar.’
Southland Conference

Frisco also hosted last weekend’s FCS Championship Game.

“Ultimately, we all have to be cognizant if our national governing bodies or professional leagues are going to respond in a similar manner as they’ve done in North Carolina, we all have to take that into account and figure out what we’re going to do as hosts of NCAA events and our own conference events,” Burnett said. “There’s going to be, I’m sure, a lot of conversation in that regard if this stays on the track it could, I guess.”

Unlike the North Carolina legislation, the Texas Privacy Act would appear to allow private entities that rent facilities the leeway to determine bathroom usages at their discretion, seemingly allowing the NCAA or the Southland Conference to make their own determinations at each event.

“A private entity that leases or contracts to use a building owned or leased by this state or a political subdivision is not subject to a policy developed,” the bill reads. “A state agency or political subdivision may not require or prohibit a private entity that leases or contracts to use a building owned or leased by this state or a political subdivision from adopting a policy on the designation or use of bathroom or changing facilities located in the building.”

Asked if the ensuing exodus of NCAA and other organizations from North Carolina set a precedent of sorts for this situation, Burnett said he “certainly thinks so.” The NCAA convention begins next week in Nashville and Burnett said he expects talks to continue there, while mindful the legislation is in its early stages and no passage is ensured.

“The NCAA is heavily invested in championship events here in this state,” Burnett said, referencing the Women’s Final Four set for Dallas in March and this past weekend’s FCS Championship Game. “There’s going to be a lot of things to talk about and a lot of events kind of in the queue that are going to be considered, I guess, in the same sort of conversation track that you saw in North Carolina, even though the issues may be a little bit different, nuanced whatever. But still, I could see where you would have some of a similar kind of response.”

The bill, which has yet to leave a Senate Committee, faces a long road before it can be signed into law, something Burnett acknowledged Monday.

“I’d want to be really careful with how much time our membership spends on something that may not really have a chance of going anywhere,” Burnett said. “You have to be proactive and somewhat reactive, you have to be prepared for anything. We’ll begin to have the conversations and our group of presidents in Texas are going to have a real good feel and understanding for what’s going to happen in Austin as the session begins.”

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