Less than 24 hours after the Aztecs booked their ticket to the Big Dance, they found out that ticket would take them to Wichita, Kansas. To Middle America, more than 1,000 miles from home. To a city that’s not exactly a tourist destination.
Oh, and to a state, Kansas, to which Californians aren’t allowed to travel on taxpayer money.
Last year, California banned state-funded travel to several states whose laws California lawmakers deemed discriminatory toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. One of those states was Kansas. The ban was a response to a bill passed by Kansas governor Sam Brownback that enabled discrimination by religious groups on college campuses.
Of course, there’s still nothing stopping a family of four in Los Angeles from traveling to Lawrence or Topeka. But the law is problematic for NCAA tournament purposes because San Diego State is a public university. It’s a California state institution. Its basketball program, and any school officials accompanying it, therefore, won’t be able to use government money to travel to Wichita for Thursday’s 6:20 p.m. ET first round game.
As part of the ban, California public universities don’t schedule sporting events in or against schools from the blacklisted states: Kansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas. Those games are usually avoidable, with few conference overlaps and non-conference scheduling flexible.
But the NCAA tournament selection committee has left San Diego State with no choice.
There is, though, a solution. Not a simple one, but one that means the school isn’t left with a supersized travel bill.
San Diego State was faced with a similar dilemma when its football team received an invitation to the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas. The Wichita Eagle explains how SDSU dealt with the travel ban on that occasion:
For the bowl game, the San Diego State athletics department used money from its Campanile Foundation, which handles donations to the university, officials said. The Mountain West Conference reimbursed the athletics department for the cost of the trip, and the department reimbursed the foundation.
So, as Mike May, the school’s associate athletic director of communications, told the Eagle, and later confirmed to Yahoo Sports, “It’s more of an accounting situation, but … it does add a wrinkle.” Essentially, funds just come from different sources, and pass through more hands.
The NCAA covers a significant portion of a team’s expenses for tournament games – players’ and coaches’ airfare and hotels, for example – but schools must pay the way for other personnel that accompany the team beyond a certain threshold.
California’s travel ban won’t, though, affect the team or the program. The main way in which it affects them is in non-conference scheduling. But nobody from San Diego State will have any problems paying for hotels in Wichita. The payments will just have to be made in a slightly roundabout way.
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