SDSU's NCAA trip is in Kansas, banned by California law for state-funded travel
March 12--Assembly Bill No. 1887 is a California law enacted last year that prohibits most forms of state-funded travel to places with legislation deemed discriminatory, particularly against gay or transgender people. Eight states are on the banned list.
Kansas is one of them.
So how is San Diego State, a university largely funded by state tax dollars, sending a traveling party of 75 players, coaches, administrators, band members, cheerleaders and staff to Wichita, Kan., this week for the NCAA men's basketball tournament?
"The NCAA is sending us to Wichita, which is in Kansas," SDSU Athletic Director John David Wicker said Sunday, after the 11th-seeded Aztecs drew sixth-seeded Houston on Thursday at Intrust Bank Arena. "We have no control over it. There are funds other than state monies we can utilize to pay for things."
More than a year after the law took effect, Attorney General Xavier Becerra has not issued a formal legal opinion on how athletic departments at state universities should proceed. The schools have been operating with the understanding that NCAA-mandated travel is OK as long as private funds are used to cover any expenses, but they should avoid scheduling nonconference games in any of the eight states. (The others: Texas, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee.)
In December, the Aztecs' football team played in the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas. On Friday and Saturday, two women's track and field athletes from SDSU will compete at the NCAA Indoor Nationals in College Station, Texas.
Kansas landed on the banned list for a 2016 law that allows faith-based groups on college campuses to deny membership to students who don't adhere to their religious beliefs or standards -- viewed by California legislators as discriminatory for racial, sexual or gender orientation.
That law reportedly was a reaction, in part at least, to a California State University nondiscrimination policy that derecognized a prominent Christian group from its campuses in 2014 that required leaders to share its religious doctrine. SDSU was among those that that denied the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship access to campus funding and facilities.
In 2011, a federal appeals court ruled SDSU did not violate students' constitutional rights by refusing to grant official status to a Christian fraternity and sorority. Alpha Gamma Omega and Alpha Delta Chi had sued the university in 2005.
The Campus Religious Freedom Bill in Kansas was sponsored by Republican Sen. Steve Fitzgerald on the premise that it protects religious freedom and is designed "to prevent discrimination."
After Kansas was added to California's travel prohibition list, Fitzgerald told the Wichita Eagle newspaper, referring to President Trump's plan to build a wall on the Mexico border: "I think there's more evidence now that when we build the wall we need to build it up the California border."
The NCAA has its own threshold of discriminatory legislation and temporarily removed championship events from North Carolina in 2017 -- as did numerous other sports and business entities -- because of the state's transgender "bathroom bill." The ban was lifted last year when the law was repealed, and no other states are currently subjected to NCAA restrictions.
AB 1887 allowed UC and CSU sports teams to travel to banned states if games were contracted before Jan. 1, 2017. The SDSU men's and women's soccer teams played in Texas in September. The men's tennis team recently had matches in Mississippi and Alabama. Women's golf is entered in a tournament in Carrollton, Texas, in April.
Wicker said no new nonconference events are being scheduled in the eight states, although football coaches are allowed to continue recruiting in Texas as long as a special privately-raised funds pay for it.
"We've had some requests from schools in those states that want to do a home-and-home (series)," Wicker said, "but if it's not conference-mandated travel or NCAA-mandated travel, we've been avoiding it."
Some California university teams have gone so far as to stay across the border in a neighboring state not on the AB 1887 list, then drive in and out each day to play.
UCLA's basketball team could also play NCAA Tournament games in a banned state, heading to Dallas if it wins a play-in game Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio. Cal State Fullerton, the other public university from California to make the tournament, is playing in Detroit, Mich., which isn't among the eight states effected.
The NCAA covers most of a school's expenses for the tournament, including charter flights, hotels and meals. Schools are allowed to bring additional personnel but must pay for it themselves. Wicker said his department would pull funds from a private account, plus a $100,000 "bonus" that the Mountain West Conference provides to help defray additional expenses associated with an NCAA Tournament trip.
"We'll use private dollars or fundraising dollars to pay for everything, then get reimbursed," Wicker said. "We're not spending money out of regular operational budgets."
The executive director of Equality California, the state's largest LGBT civil rights organization that sponsored AB 1887, told the Union-Tribune in July that the law's intent is not to "impact student-athletes' careers" by preventing them from competing in conference or NCAA championships.
"Our hope," Rick Zbur said, "is that one of the things this does is results in tournament and conference games not being sited in these states, that California schools will use their advocacy efforts with the NCAA ... These games shouldn't be occurring in these states. We want to send a message to these states that there is a cost to passing laws that are targeting our community."
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