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North Carolina lost NBA All-Star Game, NCAA events over a transgender restroom bill; is Utah heading down similar path?

HB302 seeks to ban transgender girls from participating in female sports in elementary and secondary schools in Utah

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Syracuse and Baylor mascots face off in a dance battle in the first round menÕs NCAA March Madness tournament game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 21, 2019.

If HB302 passes all the way through the Utah Senate, the ramifications of such a piece of legislation could eventually hinder the University of Utah’s ability to host NCAA championships, not to mention Vivint Arena’s ability to host the NBA All-Star Game.

Sponsored by Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, the bill seeks to ban transgender girls from participating in female sports in elementary and secondary schools. HB302 slid through the House education committee on Thursday by an 8-6 vote. It now heads for a full House vote this week with at least one powerful supporter, Speaker Brad Wilson.

Also Thursday, Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, published an article focusing on the fact that “at least 16 states are considering measures that would affect transgender athletes or those seeking treatment for gender dysphoria.”

The Kaiser Health News piece dived into the potential NCAA dynamics of this legislation getting passed.

“The sports bans run counter to NCAA rules, which state that transgender females who were born male may compete on female teams if they have been taking hormones for one year,” the KHN piece read. “Laws that don’t follow NCAA rules could result in those states being banned from hosting championship games.”

The University of Utah is currently on the books to host multiple NCAA championship events through the next several years. The Huntsman Center is slated to host a women’s gymnastics regional in April, as well as in 2025, while Utah will act as host for the 2022 NCAA Skiing Championships, which will be contested at Park City Mountain and Soldier Hollow resorts.

When the NCAA released championship sites in October for the 2023-26 bidding cycle, Utah was named a first/second-round host for the 2024 NCAA Tournament. The host arena is officially TBD, but the assumption is Vivint Arena, which hosted the West Regional in 2010, and acted as a first/second-round site in 2013, 2017, and 2019. The Huntsman Center has hosted 81 NCAA Tournament games, but none since 2006.

The NCAA has yet to respond to multiple inquiries on the matter from The Salt Lake Tribune, while a University of Utah spokesperson told The Tribune that the school “could not comment on the proposed legislation at this time.”

There is precedent within the past decade for the NCAA opting to strip championship events from states involved with controversial legislation.

In March 2016, then-North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law House Bill 2, the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act. The law stated that in government buildings, individuals may only use restrooms and changing facilities that correspond to the sex identified on their birth certificates.

The NCAA responded later that fall by pulling seven championship events during the 2016-17 academic year from the state of North Carolina, which has been a desired host for decades across multiple sports. Among those seven events were an NCAA Tournament first/second-round site in Greensboro and a women’s soccer College Cup, aka the women’s soccer Final Four.

Furthermore, the NCAA made clear it would essentially blackball North Carolina from future hosting opportunities through at least 2022.

On March 30, 2017, the state legislature partially repealed House Bill 2, removing the restrictions on restroom use by transgender individuals. Days later, the NCAA ended its prohibition on championship events in the state of North Carolina.

House Bill 2 also had a major effect on professional sports, specifically the NBA, which pulled the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte that year and moved it to New Orleans. After the repeal, Charlotte was awarded the All-Star Game in 2019.

It is worth noting that on Oct. 23, 2019, the NBA awarded the 2023 All-Star Game to Utah and Vivint Smart Home Arena. At the time, then-Gov. Gary Herbert estimated that the event would bring $45 million to $50 million in economic activity to the state.

A Jazz spokesperson told The Tribune that the team is aware of the bill and is monitoring its status, but that it is too early in the process to comment on how it will potentially impact the team’s ability to host the 2023 NBA All-Star Game.

One other high-profile instance of the NCAA stepping in when controversial state-level politics are in play came over a period of years in New Jersey during the last decade.

In 2011, The Prudential Center in Newark, then the 4-year-old home of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, was lauded for the job it did hosting the East Regional for the first time. That fall, New Jersey voters voted for a state constitutional amendment that would permit legalized sports gambling. The next year, the state legislature enacted the Sports Wagering Act, allowing sports wagering at New Jersey casinos and racetracks.

The NCAA responded by blackballing New Jersey from hosting all championship events. After the success of 2011, The Prudential Center was primed to enter the East Regional hosting rotation before the blackballing.

After years of fighting through the courts system, all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, sports betting became legal in New Jersey on June 11, 2018. Eleven months later, the NCAA announced it had rescinded a longstanding policy that prohibited championship events from being held in states that allow single-game sports betting.

With the aforementioned NCAA championship site announcement for the 2023-26 bidding cycle, The Prudential Center was given the East Regional in 2025, while T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas was given NCAA Tournament games for the first time. The 5-year-old home of the Pac-12 Tournament will host the West Regional in 2023.

All told, the city of Las Vegas will host six NCAA championship events from 2022-26.

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