This is usually a happy time of year for college basketball, a chance for the game to take center stage with all eyes focused on March Madness.
But just days before the Final Four tips off in Indianapolis, the mood surrounding the tournament has turned serious.
With both its title game and its headquarters located in
The outcry has come from a range of voices, with current and former players — including
Some want the NCAA to relocate its offices. Others have suggested switching the Final Four to an alternate city at the last second.
"I would say the NCAA is in a bind because it's hard to pick up stakes and move," said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. "But there are steps that can be taken."
It was just last week that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed SB 101, which prohibits "substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion." Critics worry the law will allow business owners to cite their beliefs in denying service to gays and lesbians.
Reaction has been swift, with corporate leaders such as Apple Chief Executive
Last week, the NCAA issued a statement saying that it was "especially concerned" about SB 101 and would "closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce."
At a time when
"I expected the NCAA to feel the pressure," said Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at Central Florida. "They have a moral obligation … to come up with something that can be a powerful influence."
With the exception of certain individual athletes, sports in America have traditionally kept their distance from social issues, Lapchick said. But there has been a gradual shift toward activism over the last 20 or so years.
Concerned that Arizona voters rejected a 1990 referendum to recognize
In 2001, the NCAA stopped holding championship events in South Carolina and Mississippi because those states flew Confederate flags at their Capitols. Several years later, the association targeted schools that had Native American mascots.
Lapchick considers the ouster of Clippers owner
"That was groundbreaking," Lapchick said. "I think we're in a time when the players are going to call on officials to take action."
Not everyone in college basketball has joined in the debate over SB 101. Last week, before his team's regional final at Staples Center,
"I've been looking at game film the whole time I've been here, so I'm not responding to that because I don't know what you're talking about," Ryan said.
But college and pro sports executives have felt growing economic pressure to address hot-button issues.
"The leagues and the sports properties find it more appropriate than ever to take a firm stand when these types of issues come up," Swangard said.
Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of Outsports and a member of the LGBT Sports Coalition, appreciates the sentiment but calls such reactions "a cop-out."
"These inclusion statements are nothing new," he said. "They take no position on the law whatsoever."
The coalition has not joined with demands that the NCAA move its headquarters or this week's Final Four. Nor does it expect any existing sports entities to pick up and leave.
"We know the University of Indiana isn't going anywhere," Zeigler said. "We know
The group has focused instead on future events.
It has asked the NCAA to consider moving the 2016 Women's Final Four out of Indianapolis. It also wants the NFL to consider relocating the annual combine and the Big Ten to look elsewhere for next season's football championship game.