NCAA lifts ban on N.J. tournaments
MONTCLAIR, N.J. -- The NCAA has lifted a recent ban against New Jersey schools being allowed to host tournament games or championships sanctioned by college sports' governing body.
The NCAA informed its member schools of the decision in a memo after U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp in Trenton issued a permanent injunction Thursday barring New Jersey from offering sports betting in the state.
Gov. Chris Christie signed a sports wagering law last year, but the NCAA and four major sports leagues challenged it.
In a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon, the NCAA said the court ruling determined that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 was constitutional and continues to outlaw sports betting nationwide, excluding a few states.
"As a result, effective immediately, New Jersey-based member schools are allowed to host non-predetermined sites of NCAA championships," the NCAA statement said. "Going forward, New Jersey schools and conferences may also be considered to host future championships events. We are excited that New Jersey student-athletes can now compete on their home field."
The memorandum written by Mark Lewis, the executive vice president of championships and alliances, said the NCAA ban would be reinstated if the state successfully appeals Shipp's ruling.
"It is certainly not our preference to change direction related to the application of the policy and be faced with the possibility of additional change due to the actions of New Jersey and any subsequent court determinations," Lewis wrote. "However, the fact that at present we can allow student-athletes to compete on their "home field" is worth the potential for future disruptions."
The NCAA decision came roughly two weeks too late to help the undefeated women's basketball team at Montclair State (29-0), which last week had to play its first two games in the Division III women's tournament at Lebanon Valley in Pennsylvania.
The Red Hawks won those games and left for DePauw in Indiana on Wednesday for a third-round game against Christopher Newport (28-2). DePauw, the only other undefeated team left in the tournament, was to play Washington University (Mo.) in the other semifinal.
Carol Blazejowski, the associate vice president for university advancement at Montclair State University, said the timing of the decision to lift the ban was hard to swallow because players missed out on the thrill of having home games for the tournament.
"I read this yesterday and felt `Wow, the timing of this could not be worse," said Blazejowski, who 35 years ago led Montclair State to the first Final Four of the AIAW tournament, losing to Ann Myers and UCLA in the national semifinals. "The worst part is if the New Jersey appeal goes through I am going to get a future email saying: `Guess what? You no longer can host."
The ban had previously cost conferences and their member schools the chance to host first- and second-round games in this year's Division I women's basketball tournament in Trenton; Division III volleyball at Stevens Tech; Division I men's and women's swimming and diving at Rutgers; and soccer and lacrosse at Montclair State earlier this year.
Not all the teams in those events would have been from New Jersey, but some in lacrosse, soccer and basketball would have.
The biggest victim of the NCAA ban might have been the Prudential Center in Newark. Most insiders felt the arena would have been the site of the East Regional in men's basketball in 2015, but it was bypassed after Christie signed the sports gambling law and Syracuse, N.Y., got the regional.
"We are pleased the NCAA has chosen to lift its ban and we are looking forward to bidding on the next available dates for the East Regional Championship," Jeff Vanderbeek, the owner of the New Jersey Devils and the chairman of Devils Arena Entertainment, which operates the facility.
The NCAA insists that the spread of legalized sports wagering is a threat to the integrity of athletic competition and student-athlete wellbeing.
"As a result, the member-created NCAA policy states a championship cannot be hosted in a state with legalized single-game sports wagering," the NCAA said. "If the State of New Jersey appeals the District Court's decision and the effectiveness of the law changes, we will continue our communication with our New Jersey-based member schools regarding any potential impact to future championships."
New Jersey officials were miffed by the NCAA ban, especially since no legal sports betting has taken place in the state other than on horse racing.
"It's like bullying of student athletes and completely unnecessary, especially since not a single state-endorsed sports bet has been placed," said Michael Drewniak, Christie's spokesman. "New Jersey is simply trying to responsibly regulate what goes on illegally every day in our state and across the country, often with organized criminal elements running the show. It's an overkill response from the NCAA to penalize student athletes and their families like this."
The New Jersey law wanted to allow sports wagering at Atlantic City casinos and the state's horse racing tracks. It would exempt games involving New Jersey colleges or college games played in the state.
Besides the NCAA, the NFL, NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball sued the state last year. The U.S. Justice Department later joined the leagues' suit.
In the court case, New Jersey noted that billions of dollars are bet legally each year on sports in Nevada, and experts estimate tens or even hundreds of billions are wagered illegally through bookmakers. In oral arguments before Shipp last month, former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, arguing for New Jersey, decried the loss of sports gambling revenue to Nevada's "permanent monopoly."
Christie had hoped to grant sports betting licenses by early this year, but those plans were put on hold.
New Jersey's casino industry has seen revenues decline steadily over the last several years in the face of competition from neighboring states. Atlantic City's newest casino, Revel, announced last week that it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this month, about a year after it opened. Earlier in February, the Trump Plaza casino was sold for $20 million, the lowest price ever paid for an Atlantic City casino.
The industry could get a lift from legislation signed by Christie this week that made New Jersey the third state to allow gambling over the Internet.