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Photo: Amy Osborne, Special To The Chronicle
California’s newly expanded ban on state-funded travel to states that discriminate against LGBT people could trip up intercollegiate athletic teams in the coming years — not only by restricting where they may play, but how they tap new recruits.
As of Thursday, state employees — including those at the University of California and California State University — are banned from traveling on the public dime to eight states. The shunned states often appear on college teams’ travel schedules. They are: Alabama, Texas, Kansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and South Dakota.
“In terms of recruiting, under current California law our coaches would be restricted from using state funds to travel to affected states,” says a statement issued Friday by the Cal Athletics Department.
On Friday, a day after state Attorney General Xavier Becerra expanded the list from four to eight states, his office told The Chronicle it had received a request for a legal opinion on whether the ban applies to “athletic team staffs” at UC and CSU. His office did not respond when asked who had made the request.
Each of the states in the ban has enacted a discriminatory law since June 26, 2015, according to Becerra, such as preventing adoptions and foster care by lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people (South Dakota and Alabama) or allowing school clubs to restrict membership on that basis (Kentucky). In Texas, a law that passed June 15 prohibits the state from “taking adverse action” against religious caregivers, which critics say gives them too much power over the welfare of LGBT children.
California’s travel ban took effect in January and specifically includes the two university systems. But it also exempts them from the ban to fulfill any athletic contracts they entered into with schools in the affected states before Jan. 1. That helps many major college athletic teams — for now — because they set their travel schedules with other schools sometimes years in advance.
But the exemption does not apply to collegiate postseason contests, where teams that do well could find they are headed for one of the states in question.
Eight sports are scheduled to have their top-tier NCAA regionals or championships in states affected by the travel ban within a year: Texas, Alabama, Kentucky and North Carolina. The most notable is the men’s Final Four basketball championship, to be held in San Antonio.
The others are men’s and women’s cross country, women’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s tennis, and men’s and women’s indoor track. Championships for lower-tier schools, including many in the CSU system, also are scheduled for some of the states included in the ban.
When California’s ban took effect in January, the Cal athletic department issued a statement saying: “Our intent is to support our student-athletes in their right to participate in NCAA postseason competition should they be assigned to a restricted state.”
But it’s not clear how they could do that, short of raising private donations to support not only travel costs, but also salaries for coaches and staff, and potentially insurance.
Meanwhile, Cal had been in preliminary talks for a men’s basketball series with the University of Kansas in January, when the travel ban that included Kansas took effect.
“Cal got back to us and told us the state ban would prevent it,” said Jim Marchiony, a spokesman for KU athletics.
On Friday, Cal issued a new statement affirming its support of “equity, diversity and inclusion,” adding: “We have an obligation and firm commitment to remain compliant with California law.” The statement also said Cal will fulfill any contracts it signed with affected states before January.
Cal’s baseball team is signed on to play in the Frisco College Baseball Classic in March in Texas. The contract for the event, which features Texas A&M, Baylor and Louisiana Tech, was signed two years ago, former Bears head coach David Esquer said.
At California State University, several campuses have major sports teams, including Cal State Fullerton, San Diego State, Long Beach State, Fresno State and San Jose State.
The news that Texas is now included in the travel ban has made some sports fans nervous at San Jose State, and Lawrence Fan, spokesman for campus athletics, has been fielding questions — mostly about whether the San Jose Spartans will be able to play its scheduled football game at the University of Texas in September.
Fan tells them not to worry. The contract was signed in September.
Nevertheless, CSU is taking a close look at the expanded travel ban and will consult with the attorney general if needed, said Toni Molle, spokeswoman for systemwide Chancellor Timothy White. However, she said, “The CSU fully intends to comply with the law, and we will not be using any state funds to pay for travel expenses to any of the banned states.”
Ricardo Vazquez, a spokesman for UC, agreed. But he said, “There have been instances where UC sports teams or researchers attending conferences have used nonstate funds to travel to the states on the list.”
Vazquez did not reply when asked for examples.
At UCLA, spokeswoman Liza David said the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics receives no state funding, but said that UCLA is “committed to promoting and protecting equity, diversity and inclusion.”