Despite having issued a warning that states with anti-transgender laws might lose out on championship events, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has announced it will hold games for its Division I regional softball tournament in three of them.
The University of Alabama, University of Arkansas, and University of Tennessee will be among the host schools for the tournament, which begins Friday, the Associated Press reports. In all three states, Republican governors have signed bills into law that bar transgender student athletes from competing on the school sports teams designated for their gender identity. The University of Florida is also a host school; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has pledged to sign a similar bill when it reaches him. The NCAA announced the sites Sunday.
The NCAA put out its warning in April, expressing its support for trans inclusion and saying, "When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected. We will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants." Under NCAA policy, trans women who have completed a year of testosterone suppression treatment can compete alongside cisgender women.
Numerous states have seen bills introduced this year aimed at keeping trans women and girls off of female sports teams, due to the perception that trans females have an inherent and unfair advantage over their cis counterparts -- something that both scientists and activists say is not true. Besides Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee, such bills have been signed into law this year in Mississippi, Montana, and West Virginia, and an executive order to similar effect issued in South Dakota. Idaho enacted a law like these last year, and it is being challenged in court.
LGBTQ+ groups are denouncing the NCAA's decision. Athlete Ally and GLAAD had written to the group last week regarding the sites it had proposed for both softball and baseball. Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida, and Texas, where trans-exclusionary sports legislation is likely to pass, are on the list of baseball finalists, and the NCAA also held softball championship qualifying games recently in Alabama and Mississippi.
"We are disappointed by the NCAA's decision to host Division I Softball championship games and to propose Division I Baseball championships in states with legislation banning transgender student-athletes from participation," Athlete Ally and GLAAD said in a joint statement Monday. "On Friday, the NCAA told us in a letter that it works to 'ensure hosts for ... all championships are able to foster an environment free from discrimination,' and NCAA policy states that events in all divisions must provide environments that are safe, healthy, and free of discrimination. Selecting states with discriminatory policies as sites for championship games goes directly against this policy by effectively banning transgender student athletes simply for being who they are. We call on the NCAA to reverse this decision and support the right of all student-athletes -- including transgender student-athletes -- to be safe, healthy and free of discrimination while participating in NCAA events."
The NCAA has so far not responded publicly. In choosing sites for baseball and softball regional, the decision is "based on team performance, quality of facilities and financial considerations," the AP reports. "This year, potential sites were predetermined because each must be evaluated for its ability to meet the NCAA's COVID-19 protocols."
The NCAA removed basketball tournament games from North Carolina in the 2016-2017 season due to the passage of that state's House Bill 2, which restricted restroom use by transgender people and barred the enactment or enforcement of LGBTQ-inclusive civil rights laws throughout the state. HB 2 has now been largely repealed.