State travel ban could sideline SDSU sports – The San Diego Union-Tribune
The San Diego State women’s soccer team is scheduled to play at Texas Tech on Sept. 15. A week later, the men’s soccer team plays a pair of games at Texas-Rio Grande Valley.
It might be the last time an Aztecs team or athletic department personnel visit the state of Texas for a while.
A California law enacted Jan. 1 prohibits most forms of state-funded travel to places with legislation deemed discriminatory, particularly toward gay and transgender people. The initial no-go list included four states: Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee. Four more were added in June: Alabama, Kentucky, Texas and South Dakota.
The travel ban theoretically applies to agencies that receive state tax dollars, which includes the CSU and UC university systems. But what that means for their athletic departments, which regularly venture out of state for games and recruiting, remains an open and, to many, anxious question.
The law exempts previously contracted games, which allowed athletes to continue traveling to banned states through the remainder of the 2016-17 season (and is the case with SDSU’s soccer games in Texas in September). But as we head into the 2017-18 academic year, a full seven months after the law went into effect, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra still has not issued a legal opinion on how AB 1887 will be enforced for intercollege athletics despite increasingly urgent requests from schools.
Can they schedule future games in states on the banned list?
What happens if a team or individual athletes qualify for an NCAA championship held in one of the eight states?
What about football coaches making home visits in the recruiting hotbed of Texas ahead of the new December signing period?
Or athletic administrators wanting to meet with donors in those states to raise money so their departments, ahem, are bankrolled less by California’s general fund?
In mid-June, Becerra told the San Jose Mercury News he would issue a “general guidance” for intercollegiate athletics “soon.” More than a month later, his press office said in an email: “The matter is pending and no opinion has yet been issued.”
Meanwhile, fall sports teams are reporting to preseason camp across the state. Games begin in mid-August.
“I’m sensitive to equal rights for everyone,” SDSU Athletic Director John David Wicker said, “but at the same time we still have to be able to go about the business of college athletics … We’re going to continue to work with the Attorney General’s office to understand a way to make sure our student-athletes, coaches and staff aren’t impacted negatively in the ability to do their job.”
Assemblyman Evan Low (Dem.-Cupertino) authored the bill as a means to protect state employees from work-related travel to places where they might face discriminatory laws and, in his words, “ensure our taxpayer dollars do not fund bigotry or hatred.” A spokesperson for Low said the law also is intended to “send a message to those states” and “raise awareness” about those discriminatory policies.
Which is where it gets tricky.
Few endeavors in the United States over the last century have pushed the agenda of racial, sexual and gender equality more than college sports. Yet in many cases they are the most visible parts of a university, and what better way to “send a message” about the evils of discrimination than strictly enforcing the travel prohibition with high-profile athletic teams?
One potential workaround is through accounting, using private donations instead of general-fund dollars to pay for travel to offending states. But would that violate the spirit of the law and remove the teeth from it? And would favor that schools like UCLA and Cal with bigger athletic donor bases while penalizing those that rely most on state funding?
The focus of Equality California, the state’s largest LGBT civil rights organization that sponsored AB 1887, appears to be on nonconference scheduling, something well within the control of athletic departments.
“It’s not our intent to impact student-athletes’ careers,” said Rick Zbur, Equality California’s executive director. “But we also think schools should be modifying their activities in order to comply with the spirit of the law, and we understand they’ve been doing that from the discussions we’ve had.
“Travel schedules are public documents, and we will be watching what the schools do. We take them at their word that they are modifying their behavior as they put together their regular-season schedules, but we will also be able to look at whether they’re doing that.”
The initial ban had minimal impact on California schools largely due to the previously-contracted games exemption and sheer geography, the four states being relatively small and not places CSU or UC teams regularly played or recruited.
The game-changer was Texas, which was added to the list last month for a new law that allegedly allows adoption agencies to deny services to gay families because of “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Texas also is considering a “bathroom bill” that restricts public restroom access to transgender people, similar to the one that got North Carolina on the list (and prompted the NCAA and NBA to remove events from the state).
Nine members of SDSU’s football roster are from Texas, the fruits of numerous recruiting trips to the state by coach Rocky Long and his staff. The women’s basketball team has one player from Texas and recently ramped up recruiting there. The Mountain West women’s swimming and diving championships have been held in neutral venues in Texas for the past five years and the 2018 meet is scheduled for San Antonio.
“The conference is having the discussion right now,” Wicker said, “about what if Fresno State, San Jose State and San Diego State can’t travel to San Antonio for the championship? Do we need to move it? What do we need to do? It doesn’t just impact the teams in San Diego. It could impact the entire conference.”
There are fundraising implications, too. Wicker flew to Dallas with Long last spring to meet with what he called a “very robust” alumni chapter that is “very proud of their San Diego State degree.”