Mark Emmert: Waiting on clarification

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Monday, March 30, 2015

NCAA president Mark Emmert said Monday the organization is "surprised and disappointed" about a new Indiana law that could allow businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians, and that the NCAA is keeping a close eye on possible changes -- if not a total repeal -- before it is scheduled to go into effect in July.

"I'm anxiously awaiting whatever clarification that the legislature can bring forward to this bill so we can really know what it means and what it doesn't mean," Emmert told ESPN's Andy Katz on Monday in his first comments on the new legislation. "As it becomes better understood, we're going to have to sit down and make judgments about whether or not it changes the environment for us doing our work and for us holding events."

The law, signed by Gov. Mark Pence on Thursday, would prohibit state and local laws that "substantially burden" the ability of people -- including businesses and associations -- to follow their religious beliefs.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay also shared his thoughts on the law Monday with a tweet in which he trumpeted the inclusiveness and tolerance of his franchise.

Indiana's Republican legislative leaders said Monday they're working on adding language to the law to make it clear that it doesn't allow discrimination against gays and lesbians, while Democrats countered that a full repeal is the only way to stem the widespread criticism.

"The law has a lot of uncertainty and obviously lacks clarity, but anything that could potentially allow for discrimination and works in a way that is inconsistent with our values for inclusion is something that we're very, very concerned about," Emmert told ESPN.

"... It does clearly need to be addressed, whether it's a repeal or whether it's some language change that makes it self-evident that there's not discriminatory practices that can be condoned under this model. It's going to be a decision they have to make, but they have to deal with it."

Businesses and organizations across the country have canceled future travel to Indiana, tabled expansion plans or criticized the legislation. Opponents have taken to social media with the hashtag #boycottindiana.

Emmert told ESPN that the NCAA was "surprised and disappointed" that it moved so quickly through the state legislature and was signed by Gov. Pence.

The LGBT Sports Coalition has called for the NCAA, the Big Ten, the NFL, USA Diving and USA Gymnastics to pull scheduled events from Indianapolis over the next 16 months.

"What we had hoped for with the bill was a message of inclusion, inclusion of all religious beliefs," Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said Monday. "What instead has come out as a message of exclusion, and that was not the intent."

The Big Ten has held its football championship game at Lucas Oil Field since 2011 and has a contract to remain there until 2021. The conference also is scheduled to hold its men's basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis in 2020 and 2022.

The Big Ten women's basketball tournament is set to be held in Indianapolis from 2017 to '22. This year's U.S. national gymnastics championships and next year's diving Olympic team trials will be held in Indianapolis.

The Final Four is scheduled to return to Indianapolis in 2021, and the women's Final Four is set to be there next year. The city is also hoping to land the 2019 Super Bowl.

The NCAA offices have been a mainstay in downtown Indianapolis since 1999, when the NCAA relocated from Kansas in part because of a rich public-private investment deal from the city to establish the headquarters.

"We simply have to operate our events and conduct our affairs in an environment that reflects the core values of what higher education is about," Emmert told ESPN. "And that's for an environment that celebrates diversity and provides for a very inclusive, supportive environment."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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