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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | April 29, 2016

At its quarterly meeting in Indianapolis this week, the National Collegiate Athletic Association's board of governors adopted a new requirement for sites hosting or bidding on NCAA events in all divisions -- from the men's and women's Final Fours to educational events such as leadership development conferences. Without yet disclosing the specific requirement, the board says it aims to provide an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination, while safeguarding the dignity of everyone involved in the events. 

The board's decision integrates the new requirement into the bidding process for championships, adding it to information already required that outlines available access for people with disabilities and details on playing and practice facilities. The board has directed the NCAA national office staff to finalize how the policy will be implemented; additional information will be made available as those processes are determined.

"The higher-education community is a diverse mix of people from different racial, ethnic, religious and sexual-orientation backgrounds," said Kirk Schulz, president of Kansas State University and chair of the Board of Governors. "So it is important that we assure that community -- including our student-athletes and fans -- that they will always enjoy the experience of competing and watching at NCAA championships without concerns of discrimination." 

The NCAA's board decision follows the recent actions of legislatures in several states that have passed laws allowing residents to refuse, on religious grounds, to provide services to people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. While proponents of the laws focus on how they protect religious beliefs, critics have voiced concerns that they create an environment of sanctioned discrimination. The NCAA says its decision reaffirms its commitment to operate championships and events that promote an inclusive  atmosphere in which student-athletes participate, coaches and administrators lead, and fans engage.  

In addition, the association said it considers the promotion of inclusiveness in race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity as a vital element to protecting the well-being of student-athletes, promoting diversity in hiring practices and creating a culture of fairness.  

Historically, the NCAA has used the opportunity to host its events as a means to make clear its values. The association currently prohibits championship events with predetermined sites to take place in states where the state government displays the Confederate battle flag, and prohibits NCAA members from hosting championship events if their school nicknames use Native American imagery that is considered abusive and offensive. 

The new requirement integrates protections against discrimination into the championships' bidding process. Board members feel the measure will provide assurance that anyone associated with an NCAA championship event -- whether they are working, playing or cheering -- will be treated with fairness and respect. 

The new selection criteria, procedures and the status of currently awarded sites will be reported to the Board of Governors Ad Hoc Committee to Promote Cultural Diversity and Equity, and full implementation is expected during the current bidding process.