Southern Miss baseball series canceled over 'religious freedom' law

Southern Miss baseball series canceled over 'religious freedom' law
The athletic department planned for 30 home games this season, so this cancellation brings the total to 27 home games. (Photo source: WDAM)

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A state law concerning same-sex couples has caused a scheduling issue for the Southern Miss baseball team.

The University of Southern Mississippi was set to host Stony Brook University, a college out of New York, on Feb. 23 for a three-game series at Pete Taylor Park. But, Sr. Associate Athletic Director Stephen Pugh said USM was made aware the Seawolves would not be able to make the trip due to House Bill 1523.

"First I've ever heard of it, so I believe it is a pretty rare occurrence," said Pugh.

HB 1523, known as the "Religious Freedom Bill," was signed into law by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant in 2016. The law allows government clerks and private business owners to deny services to same-sex couples, citing their own religious beliefs.

When Bryant signed the bill, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned all non-essential state travel to Mississippi. The law took effect in October after numerous legal battles.

"We looked at trying to bring in some teams, but this late in the game, a lot of teams have their schedule," said Pugh. "So, we were able to get into the tournament with Stephen F. Austin, and we moved quickly to secure that."

The Golden Eagles will now travel nearly 400 miles to Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, TX to play in a tournament February 23-25. Pugh said that means the athletic department will have to pay for those travel costs, while the university will lose out on ticket and concession sales

"Your single game ticket sales are affected. You lose out on those games," said Pugh. "For a series like this early in the year, against not necessarily one of your bigger name opponents, it's not huge, but obviously every little bit helps, and for what we are trying to do and drive revenue, it does have an impact."

The athletic department planned for 30 home games this season, so this cancellation brings the total to 27 home games. Pugh said there has been an adjustment to season tickets.

"Anytime you can play at home, it's great for your players, your fans, and what the team is trying to receive," said Pugh. "But, at the end of the day, you have to roll with the punches, and we're confident it won't affect our team in what they are trying to accomplish this season."

HB 1523 remains on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.