A Swing and a Miss for the NCAA

May 18, 2021

It looks like the NCAA is nothing but a paper tiger after all. As states around the country considered bills to protect women's sports, the National Collegiate Athletics Association threatened it would only hold championships in locations "free of discrimination." In other words, they would withhold any tournaments or championships to punish states that required athletes to compete against their same biological sex. Some politicians, like South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R), were cowed into surrender. But others boldly held their course.

States like Alabama and Tennessee passed laws to require public school athletes to compete according to their biological sex. The Arkansas legislature overwhelmingly passed into law a robust bill that will protect all women's sports, including at the collegiate level.

But when the NCAA named the locations of the 16 women's softball regional tournaments, Alabama (ranked 3rd), Arkansas (ranked 5th), and Tennessee (ranked 18th) all made the cut. (South Dakota State did not). Instead of choosing locations based upon its empty threats, it seems the NCAA chose based upon its usual criteria: "team performance, quality of facilities, and financial considerations," as well as the additional pandemic-era criteria: "ability to meet the NCAA's COVID-19 protocols."

The NCAA's decision shouldn't have made news because there was nothing new in the decision. Yet it ignited a firestorm of controversy. An op-ed in USA Today by Nancy Armour labelled the women's sports bills as "draconian," "dangerous nonsense," and an attempt to "otherize" people who identify as transgender from a "radical" group "hellbent on inflaming the culture wars," and willing to "twist facts" to do it. Ironically, she levels these charges at conservatives, who are usually the victims of these things. Maybe someone should tell her about BLM, the SPLC, and big tech censorship. Meanwhile, Armour claims the NCAA "doesn't care about student-athletes," it lacks a spine and a conscience, and that their "latest act of cowardice" is putting people's lives in danger.

There are three lessons here. First, sports leagues and corporations ought to realize they're playing with fire every time they wade into a culture war. They're almost certain to get burned. They're more likely to please no one than if they'd done nothing. Second, state legislators and governors should learn the best way to survive an onslaught of woke corporate hysteria is to stand their ground. Georgia's legislature proved this when they fought off the woke corporate mob that falsely slandered their election integrity law. Despite their loud protestations, corporate executives rarely have the stomach for costly and unprofitable fights against state governments.

Third, there's strength in numbers. For each state that joins the ranks of those defending sane, science-based policies, the potential firepower of corporations and the media is diluted. Three states passed laws protecting women's sports this year. All three are hosting NCAA softball regionals, despite the league's threats to the contrary. To me, that sounds like the score is: States 3, NCAA 0. Imagine if other state legislatures -- Florida, Texas, Oklahoma -- join them. If the NCAA tries to boycott everywhere, they won't have a league anymore. We sorely need men and women of courage and faith in elected office to stand up for truth, for right, for commonsense -- men and women who will never back down in the face of opposition, and who will stand to fight these battles together.