The State Worker

Will California’s travel restrictions hurt your college football team?

California's ban on state-funded travel grew to include a ninth state on Friday with Attorney General Xavier Becerra announcing new restrictions on public employees attending work-related events in Oklahoma. The law prohibits the California State University and University of California systems from sending staff members or students to states on the banned list. The public university systems continue to send their athletic teams to those states for post-season events, such as the NCAA basketball tournament or college football bowl games.
California's ban on state-funded travel grew to include a ninth state on Friday with Attorney General Xavier Becerra announcing new restrictions on public employees attending work-related events in Oklahoma. The law prohibits the California State University and University of California systems from sending staff members or students to states on the banned list. The public university systems continue to send their athletic teams to those states for post-season events, such as the NCAA basketball tournament or college football bowl games. AP file

UCLA and Cal didn’t have great football seasons last year, but they did have 17 players recruited from Texas, a hotbed of high school football.

Whether coaches can return to recruit prospects is up in the air following the state Justice Department’s decision last week to add four states to a list of states to which travel is restricted under a nearly year-old ban. California believes states on the banned list discriminate against LGBT rights.

Texas, Alabama, Kentucky and South Dakota now join Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee as states into which California has banned most state-funded travel, with the exception of law enforcement officers, tax auditors and those traveling for training events required for grants.

Though that may sound pretty cut and dried, several state entities still don’t entirely know how the restriction affects them, including the athletic departments at University of California and California State University schools, and scholars who typically receive state grants to attend academic conferences in states such as Texas.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office is working on a legal opinion to sort things out for the athletic programs, determining whether the ban applies to UC and CSU athletic teams. Among questions the schools hope Becerra will answer is` whether their teams can travel to banned states to compete and recruit, given that coaches and support staff are state employees. The upcoming season remains unaffected in many cases because the law provides an exemption for contracts entered into before Jan. 1, 2017.

What happens next is less clear.

The ban – intended to avoid supporting states that have enacted laws that leaders in California view as discriminatory against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people – could deliver a huge blow to recruiting from high schools in Texas and the other seven states.

A spokeswoman for CSU said the system’s athletic teams are waiting for answers.

“I’m not sure how the expansion of the ban to add four states will affect post-season play or recruitment,” said Toni Molle, director of public affairs in the California State University Chancellor’s Office. “This is something the CSU will be reviewing. 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.”

Diehard fans may not be too concerned, but it also remains unclear whether, if qualified, the UCLA or Cal football teams would be able to play in the national championship semifinal game at the Cotton Bowl in Texas in late 2018.

UCLA, Cal and other California college teams could be prohibited from playing in the first or second rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament if they’re sent to Charlotte, N.C., Nashville, Tenn., Wichita, Kan. or Dallas, Texas. Even if the teams can travel with private funding, their coaches and other state-employed staff might not be able to make it to half of the NCAA tournament sites of 2018, including the Final Four in San Antonio.

In December, a UCLA spokesman told The Bee the school wouldn’t schedule games in banned states. But in March, the Bruins’ men’s basketball team progressed to the Sweet 16 in Memphis, Tenn., deciding not to let the travel ban block the team from the NCAA tournament. They lost that game, 86-75.

Academics also are waiting for answers about their ability to attend conferences and conduct research in the banned states if they are unable to afford the travel without grants from the state.

“The statute has a significant impact on us, especially as the list of prohibited states grows,” said Dianne Klein, press secretary for the University of California Office of the President. “Our academic and medical researchers work collaboratively with their counterparts in other states such as Texas, which is a huge state with top-notch universities and medical centers.”

Steven Filling, professor of accounting and ethics at California State University, Stanislaus, said he thinks it’s possible that academics could forgo the trips, or the state will experience a brief brain drain.

“A lot of people come to us from graduate schools in the banned states, and they tend to maintain connections with research groups at the graduate school they attended,” Filling said. The change, according to Filling, could make California schools less attractive to researchers until changes are either made as exemptions in the language of the bill, or until grant proposals change to accommodate the bill. “It may be a first-generational problem that affects people only now.”

Kevin Wehr, professor of sociology at California State University, Sacramento, and bargaining team chairman for the California Faculty Association, said the restriction could make it difficult for some professors to fulfill their job descriptions.

“Some of the banned states are places where academic conferences happen on a regular basis,” Wehr said, “and there’s a number of important universities that folks may have research collaborations with that will now face interruptions.”

He said California can be influential in determining where conferences are held.

“Organizations that put on the meetings I’m sure are on the lookout for places to hold meetings that are not in states on the travel ban because there’s a great number of folks coming from California to those meetings,” Wehr said. “As California goes, so do many other states. If a large academic organization makes the choice not to have their meeting in Chapel Hill (North Carolina) because Californians can’t go there, that means those dollars are driven to another state, creating ramifications throughout the nation.”

One organization, the National Communication Association, sent an email to its members last week assuring that the association was “seriously and sincerely considering a number of possible options regarding the 103rd annual convention in Dallas this November.”

On Thursday, they announced that the conference is still on, waiving registration fees for attendees from California and promising a list of vendors in the area that “support equality and justice, thus enabling NCA members to come to Dallas knowing that they can shop, dine and relax in institutions whose values mesh with [their] Credo for Ethical Communications and [their] Statement on Diversity.” Californians will still have to find other ways to fund their transportation and housing for the conference, as they won’t have access to state grants.

Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, and the author of the law, said the point is not to create problems for the scientific and athletic communities.

Plenty of auxiliary funds for researchers and athletics departments can be used to underwrite their trips into the banned states, Low said. The point of his bill and the extension, he said, is to keep taxpayer money out of states that encourage “bigotry or hatred.”

“The California state budget is a value statement,” said Low, who is chair of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus. “When we put dollars toward education, health care and social services, it’s a reflection on the values we have via our democracy and our representatives. This bill ensures discrimination will not be tolerated beyond our borders.”

Rennie Svirnovskiy, 916-321-1310, @RennieYS

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

  Comments