NCAA Reality Check: Sports Betting States Can Host Tournament Games


In 2013, the NCAA laid down the hammer on New Jersey colleges and universities over the state’s temerity to challenge a federal law passed in 1992 that effectively banned sports betting outside of Nevada.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated that law in siding with New Jersey and against the NCAA and the four major U.S. professional sports leagues.

That led the NCAA to temporarily suspend its ban on allowing states such as New Jersey from hosting championship events – and on Thursday, the organization opened the door for “sports betting states” to be part of the competition for those events.

Per the NCAA statement, “The board also reinforced its support for federal legislative sports wagering standards. While the board stressed that an exemption of college sports in any federal or state legislation is desired, it emphasized that any proposed legislation should protect student-athlete well-being and the integrity of games.”

Ironically, New Jersey does not permit betting on college games – if those games involve a New Jersey school or if the game is held in the state, regardless of where the universities are located.

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March Madness – Jersey style?

In 2011, the Prudential Center landed an NCAA March Madness men’s basketball regional – hosting the semifinals and finals of the East Region.

As it happened, Marquette was joined in Newark by three of college athletics’ premiere programs – Kentucky, North Carolina, and Ohio State.

The arena received plaudits from fans and media, seemingly setting it up for more to come. But after the NCAA sued the state in 2012, it followed up a year later with a ban on further championship events in the Garden State.

So look for another regional in Newark in years to come – at least five years, probably, given how far in advance the NCAA chooses sites for these coveted games.

But more than two dozen colleges and universities are impacted by the decision.

Take Montclair State, which lost women’s basketball, soccer, and field hockey home games in 2013 alone. Or Ramapo, which had its men’s basketball team play a “home game” not on its Mahwah campus but in nearby Nyack, N.Y. in Rockland County.

Trenton, meanwhile, lost out on tourism dollars that year when its Division I women’s basketball regional was yanked away from the CURE Insurance Arena after previously playing host in 2006 and 2009.

Kean University just hosted the Division III men’s volleyball championship – won by SUNY-New Paltz – thanks to last year’s temporary suspension of the New Jersey ban.

Pragmatism wins the day

Has the NCAA forgiven New Jersey for its eventual court victory in opening the door for more sports betting?

Probably not. But since the Supreme Court’s ruling, Nevada and New Jersey have been joined in sports betting by Delaware, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and New Mexico – with plenty more to come.

It was going to become more and more impractical for the NCAA to box itself in to only hosting events in non-betting states – Utah and Hawaii could only handle so many contests, after all.

Finally, it’s worth noting that numerous NCAA Division I men’s basketball conferences – this year it was the Pac-12, West Coast Conference, Western Athletic Conference, and Mountain West – hold their league tournaments in Las Vegas. Now the NCAA is free to bring March Madness there as well.

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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