Last week, the NCAA announced where it would hold more than 600 championship events between fall 2017 and spring 2022. The biggest news out of this was the NCAA’s return to North Carolina after it had moved seven championship events out of the state because of laws it viewed as discriminatory toward the LGBT community. Bowing to pressure from the NCAA, the North Carolina state legislature partially repealed those laws late last month but left in place a de facto prohibition on local anti-discrimination ordinances. That was good enough for the NCAA, which awarded the state 23 future championship events, including opening-round games in its marquee event: its men’s basketball tournament.
“They kind of did the absolute minimum to earn their way back into the association’s good graces,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said Thursday at the Associated Press Sports Editors’ annual meeting.
New Jersey, meanwhile, was awarded two events, both of them minor: the 2019 Division III men’s volleyball championship and the 2020 Division III field hockey championship.
One state is failing to protect an entire subset of humans from discrimination. The other is trying to let adults gamble on sports, an activity that’s legal all over the world and in certain parts of this country.
Guess which one the NCAA is rewarding.
New Jersey has been trying to legalize sports gambling as a way to prop up its sagging casino industry for years now, only to be opposed by the four major U.S. professional sports leagues plus the NCAA. Those groups have argued in federal court that such a maneuver would violate PASPA, the 1992 federal law that prohibits sports gambling in all but a handful of U.S. states. The lower-level courts have sided with the leagues, but the Supreme Court now is considering whether to take on New Jersey’s latest attempt at sports-gambling legalization. According to reports, the U.S. solicitor general will give the Supreme Court his opinion about the merits of New Jersey’s case next month, with a ruling expected in June.
If the Supreme Court agrees to take the case, it could hear arguments by next January and rule sometime in the late spring or summer of 2018.
The NCAA isn’t merely opposing New Jersey’s efforts in the courtroom. In 2012, it moved nine events out of New Jersey after the state’s first attempt to legalize sports gambling and announced it would hold future NCAA men’s basketball games in New York City and Syracuse instead of Newark, which was seen as a favorite after what was regarded as a successful East Regional in 2011. More than 38,000 fans came to Prudential Center for those three games, spending more than $6 million in the area.
“Maintaining the integrity of sports and protecting student-athlete well-being are at the bedrock of the NCAA’s mission and are reflected in our policies prohibiting the hosting of our championships in states that provide for single-game sports wagering,” Mark Lewis, NCAA executive vice president of championships and alliances, said at the time. “Consistent with our policies and beliefs, the law in New Jersey requires that we no longer host championships in the state.”
A spokesman for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie shot back.
“The NCAA wants to penalize New Jersey for responsibly legalizing what occurs illegally every day in every state and often with the participation of organized crime,” Michael Drewniak said. “But the NCAA looks the other way for that? Ludicrous and hypocritical.”
It should be noted that sports gambling is still illegal in New Jersey, despite the state’s efforts. Nevertheless, the NCAA still mostly passed over the state. A Seton Hall spokesman told The Post that the school applied to host NCAA men’s basketball tournament games in a co-bid with Newark’s Prudential Center, the site of the successful 2011 East Regional. The NCAA instead awarded its 2019-2022 East Region semifinals to Washington, New York City, Brooklyn and Philadelphia. Raleigh and Greensboro, meanwhile, were awarded first- and second-round games in North Carolina.
Asked for comment, an NCAA spokeswoman merely said that the organization does not allow NCAA-run events to be held in states with legalized sports gambling (which, again, New Jersey doesn’t yet have). She didn’t comment on whether the NCAA was passing over New Jersey because of its desire for expanded gambling, but that’s exactly what three U.S. senators think the organization is doing.
“We are not asking that the NCAA change its prohibition on sports wagering for student-athletes, coaches, or administrators,” U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey wrote along with Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto in a letter sent Tuesday to the NCAA. “However, we are requesting that the NCAA board of directors reevaluate its position on sports wagering and site selection for championship play.”
It’s the absolute minimum the NCAA could do.