NCAA women's tournament • Analysis
What comes next for Caitlin Clark is the hardest part
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The NCAA wouldn’t pull its Final Fours from Texas, so I’m staying home

Houston will host the men's Final Four. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
6 min

I can’t wait for Saturday’s men’s Final Four games in Houston. There are three teams that have never been to a Final Four, no teams that were seeded higher than a No. 4 and one absolute Cinderella. The only thing lacking is Sister Jean.

I will not, however, be in Houston. This would have been my 40th Final Four. And with Connecticut (the only one of the four teams that has been to a men’s Final Four), San Diego State (with a coach who waited 28 years for his chance), Miami (coached by my longtime friend Jim Larrañaga) and Florida Atlantic (a true Cinderella, coached by a former Bob Knight manager), this is my kind of Final Four.

I’m not going for one simple reason: On June 2, nine days after 19 schoolchildren and two teachers were shot and killed at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Tex., I wrote a column urging the NCAA to move this year’s Final Fours out of Texas — the women’s event is in Dallas — until and unless that state passed something resembling meaningful gun legislation.

I knew two things for certain when I wrote the column: Texas wasn’t going to change its gun laws, and the NCAA was going to hide under a rock and do nothing. Sometimes you have to tilt at windmills.

I noted in the column that the shooter, who isn’t worthy of having his name printed here, bought the AR-15-style rifle he used in the massacre legally just after his 18th birthday — three years before he could legally buy a drink. According to the convoluted police reports that gradually came out of Uvalde, at one point he was able to fire more than 100 rounds in 2½ minutes.

Earlier this week, there was a school shooting in Nashville: six dead, three children and three adults. The shooter carried three guns — one of them an AR-15-style rifle; the shooter had legally purchased seven guns at five local gun stores, according to police. My guess is there will be a moment of silence before Saturday’s first Final Four game. And then, it will be “play ball!” — and nothing will change. Just like after Uvalde. Just like after all the other tragedies involving gun violence.

When I contacted Dan Gavitt, who runs the basketball tournaments for the NCAA, last year, he told me that only the organization’s board of governors could make the decision to move a Final Four.

I pointed out in my note to Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, then the chairman of that board, that there was precedent for the NCAA moving events because of political objections. It refused to schedule events in South Carolina for 14 years until the state finally took down the Confederate battle flag from its statehouse grounds. It also moved events from North Carolina after the passage of the so-called “bathroom bill,” an anti-LGBTQ piece of legislation. The NBA moved its All-Star Game out of North Carolina because of the same bill, and in 2021, Major League Baseball moved its All-Star Game out of Atlanta after Georgia passed a voting bill clearly designed to make it more difficult for Black people to vote.

I interviewed baseball commissioner Rob Manfred not long after, and he said MLB’s decision was influenced by the threat of a player boycott of the game. Manfred, a member of Augusta National Golf Club, did not attend that year’s Masters after making the decision to move the game.

When I asked him whether he avoided the tournament because he was afraid of backlash from his fellow members, he said, “Only the club chairman comments on matters regarding the club. Put it this way: I didn’t go to the tournament.”

After the NCAA said it had no intention of moving any championships because of a state’s gun control laws, I received a statement with DeGioia’s name on it: “The NCAA board of governors has indeed addressed important issues in the past, but any action to block states from hosting championships based on state’s gun laws require the most careful engagement with the membership.”

Translation: “We aren’t messing with the gun activists,” which is as true now as it is when I wrote it then.

The 2024 men’s Final Four is scheduled to be in Glendale, Ariz., and Arizona’s gun laws are sorely lacking, as are the gun laws in most states. In fact, only 21 states require a background check or a permit to purchase a handgun, according to the group Everytown. Uvalde, however, was a moment to respond directly to a tragedy that should have horrified everyone. No one took any action.

If the NCAA had taken action, corporations — especially those that advertise on TV during the basketball tournaments and those affected directly by a major event not showing up in their city — might have begun pushing for change because the lack of legislation would cost them in dollars and in marketing. Does anyone here in Washington think the name of the football team was changed because Daniel Snyder had a sudden attack of racial consciousness? No. It was because his corporate sponsors were threatening to pull out — because they were embarrassed.

Meanwhile, tragedies such as Uvalde occur, and everyone agrees how tragic it is. Then nothing changes.

About the only person who will be in Houston who will notice my absence — or care about it — is my friend Dick “Hoops” Weiss. That’s fine. I believe this is the right thing to do.

The 2025 men’s Final Four is scheduled for San Antonio. That’s plenty of time for the NCAA to go back to politicians in Texas and say, “Pass some meaningful gun laws before the 2024 Final Four or we aren’t coming back.” That’s plenty of time for the board of governors to conduct “the most careful engagement with the membership.”

Of course, it won’t happen. There’s nothing I can do, say or write to turn the NCAA into an organization with moral standards.

Last week, John I. Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame, and Jack Swarbrick, his athletic director, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about their concern that name, image and likeness deals are “professionalizing” college athletics.

Athletes getting paid is a major concern for them. Children being in mortal danger merely by going to school? Not so much.