North Carolina is the men’s college basketball national champion for a sixth time, having beaten Gonzaga for that title on Monday. It’s a long-standing, unofficial tradition that the NCAA tournament’s last team standing pays a visit to the president at the White House in the months that follow. It’s not clear if North Carolina would accept such an invitation or, to their coach, if they’ll even get one.
A reporter asked Williams a few days before the Final Four if UNC would accept an invitation, and Williams demurred. The coach said he was “dadgum superstitious” and wouldn’t discuss such an opportunity with games still to play.
After actually winning the title, Williams was asked again for his “thoughts” on visiting President Trump in Washington. His response, in full:
I haven't had any. I probably screwed it up. I should have told you let me think about it afterwards, because I wasn't going to jinx myself.
We won in '05; we never got invited. I don't know if we're going to get invited this time. That's a bad way to put it.
They invited us in September when they were doing a lot of teams. Well, all my team were already at the NBA training camp and two of them in Europe. So we didn't go in '05. And we did go in '09.
But, you know, the office of the presidency of the United States is the most fantastic place you can be. But let me think on it.
Again, I don't know that we're going to get invited. I really don't. But I know one thing, we're putting up a nice banner in the Smith Center that's hard to get.
Last month at the ACC tournament, Williams was critical of Trump. “Our president tweets out more bullshit than anybody I’ve ever seen,” he said, as part of a longer answer to a mostly unrelated question.”
Roy Williams on social media and the president's tweeting habits... If you know anything about Coach, you know this is worth a listen! pic.twitter.com/JV1ECdbiCt— Jeff Jones (@JeffJonesSports) March 9, 2017
Williams works in a state that broke for Trump in the 2016 election. His university is a public one that relies on cooperation and funding from the state government, whose legislature is majority Republican. At least some of UNC’s boosters probably support Trump. Williams coaches a roster of players who might have varying political views. He’s got a lot to consider, assuming the White House reaches out.
The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots will visit Trump’s White House this month. The team’s owner and quarterback, Robert Kraft and Tom Brady, have said they’re friends with the president. Several players on New England’s Super Bowl roster have said they’re not going.
This is going to be a decision point for every sports organization that gets Trump’s invitation. If the Tar Heels do, they’ll be among the next to face it.