The NCAA is considering keeping all of its events out of Mississippi because of the “religious freedom” law signed by Gov. Phil Bryant earlier this year.
The collegiate athletics regulatory agency, which has long kept many events out of Mississippi because of its state flag, said Wednesday it will closely weigh keeping all NCAA events out of states that have passed legislation “allowing residents to refuse to provide services to some people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Mississippi was not specifically listed by the NCAA in a press release announcing the action, though it says the rules change “follows the recent actions of legislatures in several states.”
“We need to make sure our student athletes are competing in venues and in states that have an inclusive environment for all our student athletes, all our fans, and our coaches,” Kirk Schulz, president of Kansas State University and chair of the NCAA Board of Governors, said in a video released Wednesday. “It’s important for us to weigh in on these issues and ensure that our Division I, Division II, or Division III athletes have championship experiences among the best.”
On April 5, Bryant signed House Bill 1523, which allows circuit court clerks and business owners to refuse service to same-sex married couples based on religious beliefs. The law has garnered scrutiny from numerous national corporations, associations and other entities that do business in the state.
To host postseason competition in sports such as baseball, softball and tennis, individual universities already must submit bids to the NCAA before their site is selected. The rules change adopted by the NCAA this week would add a layer to that bidding process in which universities would discuss their ability to offer an inclusive environment for players and fans.
Three Mississippi baseball teams – Mississippi State, Southern Miss and Ole Miss – are currently being considered to host postseason tournaments. Since the law was signed earlier this year, all three universities have released statements solidifying their diversity standards.
It would be premature for Mississippi State to comment on this issue until the university has time to complete an evaluation of the NCAA’s actions, says Sid Salter, MSU chief communications officer. “But our university has already reiterated our commitment to MSU’s core values of diversity, inclusion and non-discrimination.”
Jack Duggan, USM assistant athletic director of media relations, said on Thursday he did not know of plans to release a statement on the issue. Athletic department officials from Ole Miss did not return calls and emails for comment.
In March, Mississippi State hosted a women’s NCAA basketball tournament game in Starkville. In the past three years, all three Division I schools in Mississippi have hosted postseason tournaments.
The rules change would also affect decisions to host NCAA sponsored non-athletic activity in Mississippi, such as educational events and leadership development conferences, according to the NCAA.
“The higher education community is a diverse mix of people from different racial, ethnic, religious and sexual orientation backgrounds,” Schulz said in the statement. “So it is important that we assure that community – including our student-athletes and fans – will always enjoy the experience of competing and watching at NCAA championships without concerns of discrimination.”