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NCAA Fretting Over Indiana 'Religious Liberty' Law's Effect Ahead Of Final Four Event

(CBS SF) -- The National Collegiate Athletic Association is looking to head off a potential controversy involving its Final Four men's basketball championship in Indianapolis next weekend following the passage of a new Indiana 'religious freedom' law that opponents say could allow businesses to refuse to serve gays and lesbians.

Gov. Mike Pence on Thursday signed into law a bill that allows businesses to challenge local laws preventing discrimination against customers based on sexual orientation, saying "many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action."

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Pence offered as an example the University of Notre Dame objecting to provisions in the Affordable Care Act requiring insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Shortly after it was signed, NCAA president Mark Emmert issued a statement reflecting concern over the impact the legislation would have on the Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

"The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events," Emmert said. "We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees. We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week's Men's Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill. Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce."

Jason Collins, the former Stanford alum and first openly gay active NBA player, was set to cover the NCAA Final Four in Indianapolis for Yahoo Sports. Earlier this week, he tweeted a question to Gov. Pence about the bill and its effect.

An online push for the NCAA to react to the bill began a couple of days ago with the hashtag #Final4Fairness.

The conflict arises as thousands of college basketball fans prepare to converge on the city for the conclusion of the NCAA Tournament, an economic behemoth in college sports. The 14-year television contract alone for the event is worth $10.8 billion.

Pence Thursday disputed assertions that the law would discriminate against anyone. "This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it," he told reporters. "In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved."

Supporters of the law say it protects those with strong religious beliefs from government overreach while opponents claim it will allow discrimination, particularly against gays and lesbians.

Indianapolis' Republican mayor, Greg Ballard, opposes the law and said it would put the city's economy at risk. Two major Indianapolis conventions had threatened to move elsewhere if Pence signed the bill.

The LGBT Sports Coalition also called for the NCAA, the Big Ten, the NFL and USA Diving and USA Gymnastics to pull events from Indianapolis over the next 16 months.

TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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