NCAA president: RFRA is more important than a basketball tournament

NCAA President Mark Emmert
NCAA President Mark Emmert talks at a press conference before the Final Four on April 2, 2015.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP/WISH) — NCAA President Mark Emmert said Thursday the association is “very pleased” with revisions to Indiana’s religious objections law that critics feared would lead to discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Indiana lawmakers unveiled an amended bill earlier in the morning. They still need approval from the Legislature and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

The NCAA, based in Indianapolis, was among the first to express concern about the law when it was passed last week. The Final Four is being held in Indianapolis this weekend and Emmert said the NCAA would consider moving future events out of state if the law wasn’t revised.

“We did in fact reach out to legislators I talked to the governor, the speaker of the house, worked with the mayor, worked with business leaders here in town. They were consulting with us around language changes that may or may not be sufficient to fix this bill, Emmert said during a Thursday afternoon conference. “It’s an important issue to get the law right on.”

Emmert spoke to members of the press to answer questions about RFRA.

“We’re pleased that they, the legislative bodies and the governor and others, have decided to respond appropriately.”

“It’s a bill that creates an environment in which college athletics would find it very difficult to operate,” Emmert said.

Final Four sites are set years in advance, though Indianapolis is penciled in for one every five years in both the men’s and women’s tournaments as part of an agreement between the city and the NCAA.

Emmert said the “bill is more important than a basketball tournament, and it establishes the legal environment for people in the state of Indiana.”

Next year, as part of the 35th anniversary of NCAA women’s basketball, the Division II and III championships will also be held in Indianapolis. That would make moving the event more complicated, but not impossible.

Some worried the controversy about RFRA would hurt Indianapolis while they carried this year’s NCAA Final Four games. Emmert voiced that this debate was of course not ideal at this time.

“Are we happy that this debate is occurring during the middle of Final Four week? Of course not. It would have been a lot easier to have some other debate.”

(REPORT CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO)

The NCAA said they were aware of the bill, but were surprised by the rate of which it went through the legislature and which the governor signed the bill.

“We were a little bit caught off guard by that. The reality that no one could offer any reassurance that this bill would not allow, would not protect discriminatory acts based on sexual orientation,” said Emmert.

Emmert said although they are pleased with the changes to the law the original bill was clear about what it meant and didn’t mean.

“While we don’t want to overplay the role that we had in it we’re pleased that they, the legislative bodies and the governor and others have decided to respond appropriately,” Emmert said.

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