Eddie Perlas / ESPN Images(INDIANAPOLIS) — NCAA President Mark Emmert, an early critic of Indiana’s new “religious freedom” law, says it could be a problem for future NCAA events in Indiana — like the 2016 women’s Final Four — and is backing efforts within the state to change or repeal it.
“Whether it’s repeal or whether it’s some language change that makes it self-evident that there’s no discriminatory practices that could be condoned under this model is a decision they’re going to have to make, but they need to deal with it,” Emmert told ESPN in an interview Monday.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence last week signed into law Indiana Senate Bill 101, a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on the books in other states and at the federal level. It simply states that the government must prove a higher threshold of government interest when enforcing widely applied laws where they infringe on anyone’s free exercise of religion.
Both opponents and supporters have said it would allow for businesses to deny services to gays and lesbians, for instance if a Christian wedding photographer were uncomfortable being hired to photograph a gay wedding.
Indiana’s Republican House speaker and Senate president pro tem said earlier on Monday that they will push their colleagues to make changes to the bill to clarify that it is not intended to allow denial of services based on sexual preference.
The law is slated to go into effect this July.
The NCAA is headquartered in Indianapolis, where the men’s basketball Final Four will be played this weekend, and Emmert was one of the first figures outside politics to voice “concern” over the law when Pence signed it last week.
In the interview Monday, Emmert said the NCAA is proud that it has championed diversity for its athletes and employees and alluded to future problems for sporting events — and the NCAA’s presence — in the state if the law stands.
“For us personally in the NCAA, this is a big deal. We’re very proud of the environment we’ve created here, and we don’t want to lose that. We don’t want to have it put at risk,” Emmert said.
Emmert also hinted that the NCAA could move next year’s women’s basketball Final Four if the law stands.
“We have to evaluate this,” Emmert said. “We, the NCAA, have to sit down and say, if this environment remains where it is, what does this mean for us going forward?”
In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos over the weekend, Pence would not say whether the law would allow for denial of services to gays and lesbians, and Emmert said recent statements by Indiana public officials have left uncertainty over what the law does.
“Before we get that far down the road [in repealing or changing the law], we need to get a better feel for what it really means,” Emmert said.
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