NCAA should pull its championships from Texas over gun laws


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If the NCAA had any moral standards, it would move the Men’s and Women’s Final Fours — one scheduled for Houston, one slated for Dallas — out of Texas next year. It would move all of its other championships from the state, too. And it would vow not to return until Texas reforms its gun laws.

This is a moment to put the usual excuse-making aside and do something that affects more than the wallets of NCAA members. Decisive action — demanding legislation that might help prevent tragedies like the one in Uvalde — could get the attention of Gov. Greg Abbott (R), the state legislature and the corporations (notably hotels) that would stand to lose millions of dollars if the Final Fours were taken away. At the least, it would send a message about what the organization stands for.

There is precedent and evidence that the NCAA can leverage the impact of its events to protest political action — or inaction — and play a role in bringing about meaningful change. In 2001, when lawmakers in South Carolina refused to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds, the NCAA announced it would not place any pre-scheduled events in the state until the flag was removed. In 2015, the flag was finally taken down and the NCAA began scheduling events there again.

One of the first NCAA events held in the state after that victory was a 2017 men’s basketball regional. That event was held in Greenville after the NCAA pulled it out of Greensboro, N.C., in response to an anti-LGBT measure passed by the state legislature that required people to use public restrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates. Pressure from the NCAA and the NBA — which moved its All-Star Game out of Charlotte — led to the repeal of the law in 2017.

Sally Jenkins: Beneath Steve Kerr’s self-control is a life’s worth of outrage and grief

As it did in North Carolina and South Carolina, the NCAA should remove all pre-scheduled championships from Texas, although the basketball tournaments clearly would have the most economic impact. Sadly, it won’t happen. The NCAA has crawled back into its cocoon.

Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president for basketball, told me the organization’s basketball committees don’t have the power to move previously scheduled events, which could only be done by the board of governors, a 21-member group chaired at the moment by Georgetown President John DeGioia.

So I tried to get in touch with DeGioia — first through the NCAA and then through Georgetown. Trying to get in touch with President Biden might have been easier — not to mention more productive. But in a statement — clearly written by mid-level NCAA drones but apparently authorized by DeGioia — the group made its intentions clear.

“At this time the NCAA and its member schools do not plan to move any NCAA championships based on a state’s gun control laws” was the key sentence among the three in the statement. The other two called the shootings “tragic.”

While I never got a response to my request to interview DeGioia, I did get a statement with his 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 the state’s gun laws require the most careful engagement with the membership. The board of governors would only take such a step following widespread discussion across all three NCAA divisions.” Translation: We aren’t messing with the gun activists.

In truth, relocating the Final Fours would not be that difficult, especially if the NCAA — for once — moved quickly and decisively. There are 21 states that require a background check or a permit to purchase a handgun, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. Hold your events there, even if it means (gasp!) having to play a Final Four or two in an actual basketball arena instead of in a dome. Yes, that would cost the NCAA some money, but it makes so much from its television deals that it could take the hit — in the name of making an important, if symbolic, point.

Additionally, states that don’t insist on background checks or laws that at least put common-sense restrictions on the kinds of guns that can be bought need not apply for future NCAA events until they also pursue reform. For the record, I’m fine with muskets — the gun of choice when the Second Amendment was ratified 231 years ago.

How do you decide what qualifies as meaningful gun legislation or gun-control laws? Appoint an independent committee to set minimum acceptable standards. There’s nothing the NCAA loves more than creating committees — and this one, at least, would have important work to do: making clear that gun violence has gone too far and that attention needs to be paid to potential solutions.

Americans, torn between mourning and normalcy, use our games to move on

Unlike politicians, no one from the NCAA has to run against NRA-funded candidates or worry about being targeted by gun advocates. In fact, this could be a chance for the NCAA to regain some moral sway. After spending millions in legal fees to fight uselessly against name, image and likeness reform, this is a worthy cause.

What’s more important: Continuing to fight for the scam that is “amateurism” in college athletics or taking a stand that might help save lives?

Go ahead and say “But what about?” from now until the Final Fours begin. No rule change or new law is going to be perfect, no advocacy effort will be without complications, and no policy will solve every problem. The easiest thing for the NCAA to do is to hide under DeGioia’s rock — as it is clearly planning to do — and say, “It is not our place to tell states what their gun laws should be.”

If you can tell states what kind of LGBT laws you think they should have, or to take down a flag that brings back memories of the days when slavery ruled the South, you can tell states: “You need more gun control. We want to do anything we can to keep Uvalde — or Buffalo or Newtown or Columbine or Parkland — from happening again.”

The NCAA rarely makes a headline for the right reasons. This is a chance to do that.


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