ACC should bring its championship football game to Orlando — the City Equitable

Read the full article on the Orlando Sentinel’s website.

By Mike Bianchi


A public message of inclusion and advice for Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford:

Move your ACC Championship Game to Orlando, where our football stadium and the public restrooms inside our football stadium are open for business.

Whether you’re black or white, rich or poor, gay or straight, bisexual or transgender.

The ACC on Wednesday, following the lead of the NBA and the NCAA, pulled a major sporting event — the Dec. 3 conference championship football game — out of North Carolina because of a controversial state law that is discriminatory to the LGBT community. Orlando, which has longtime ties to the ACC, should be considered the No. 1 relocation site.

We have everything the ACC is looking for in hosting a big-time event: Great weather, a newly refurbished stadium, plenty of hotel rooms, fan-friendly attractions, a world-class airport, a long, a proud history with the ACC and progressive politicians who aren’t dinosaurs.

Orlando has had an ACC bowl tie-in for more than three decades, and the league is very familiar with our history as a hospitable host. Especially considering Michael Strickland, the ACC’s senior associate commissioner for football operations and the man in charge of planning and managing the ACC Championship Game, got his start working at Florida Citrus Sports in Orlando.

Surely, Florida Citrus Sports CEO Steve Hogan has been on the horn with Strickland, his former right-hand man, to lobby for Orlando and assure the ACC that the one potential scheduling conflict can be easily solved.

That potential conflict is the state high school championship football games — some of which are scheduled Dec. 3 at Camping World Stadium. However, there is a chance the high school games could be relocated to UCF or Daytona Beach Municipal Stadium, thereby opening up Camping World Stadium for the ACC Championship Game.

Daytona Beach originally bid on this year’s high school championship games and was initially selected — pending negotiations — as the host city by the Florida High School Athletic Association. Those negotiations broke down with Daytona essentially backing away, and the FHSAA awarding the games to Orlando. Let’s not kid ourselves: With a chance to host a big-time national event like the ACC Championship Game, Orlando could easily stroke a check to the FHSAA and/or Daytona Beach to have the high school games moved to Municipal Stadium on Dec. 3.

As for UCF, I’ve been told the Knights would love to host the high school championship games and get all of those potential football recruits on campus for a weekend. However, there is a remote chance — a very remote chance — the Knights could host the American Athletic Conference Championship Game, which is also scheduled for Dec. 3.

But even if Orlando can’t find a way to host the game, let’s just be thankful we live in a progressive, inclusive city that simply doesn’t tolerate discrimination. It’s unfathomable that North Carolina’s politicians are so stodgy and stubborn that they are willing to stand steadfastly by their discriminatory law despite the fact that they are driving away millions, if not billions of dollars, in commerce.

The law — known as HB2 — requires transgender people to use restrooms at schools and government buildings corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates. But don’t be fooled. The “bathroom” portion of the law gets all of the publicity, but the troubling aspect is that the law excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from local and statewide anti-discrimination protection.

In July, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced his league was pulling its All-Star Game out of North Carolina. Earlier this week, NCAA President Mark Emmert announced his organization was moving the NCAA Basketball Tournament out of North Carolina. And then came Swofford’s announcement on Wednesday that the ACC’s championship football game, along with championship events for seven other sports, will be yanked out of the state.

Hooray for sports figures, rock stars and business leaders for taking a stand against social injustice. Iconic Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski calls North Carolina’s law “an embarrassment.” Bruce Springsteen, among others, has canceled concerts in the state, sending the message that if you’re “Born in the USA,” you have the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of toilet-stall happiness. PayPal shelved its plan to relocate its headquarters to Charlotte, while Google, Apple, American Airlines and Bank of America (based in Charlotte) have all spoken out strongly against the law.

As Bob Dylan once sang during the protests of the 1960s, “The times, they are a-changin.” Well, then, when are the old, out-of-step politicians going to get with the times and realize their archaic prejudices don’t fly anymore. Inequality is not going to be tolerated — not in government, not in business, not in sports.

Here’s hoping the ACC, the NCAA, the NBA, Google, Apple and everybody else takes a good look at what’s happening in Orlando — one of the most accepting and inclusive cities in America.

We are not only the City Beautiful; we are the City Ethical, the City Equitable and the City Honorable.