The NCAA named Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee as host schools for softball regionals on Sunday, bringing its postseason tournament to three states that have passed laws requiring athletes to compete in interscholastic sports according to their sex at birth.
Legislation banning transgender athletes from competing in interscholastic sports has been introduced in dozens of states this year. Republican governors have signed such bills in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia. The Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia laws also cover college sports teams.
Proponents of bans on transgender athletes in sports argue that athletes who are born male have physiological advantages over those who are born female. Opponents believe the laws are discriminatory and part of a backlash by cultural conservatives against acceptance of transgender people. The issue has become part of the nation’s partisan divide, with former president Donald Trump speaking out in favor of the bans.
The NCAA allows transgender women to compete if they have taken testosterone-suppressing drugs for at least one year.
The NCAA Board of Governors issued a statement last month saying it “firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports,” and warned that future hosting of NCAA events could be affected by state laws.
“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,” the board said. “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.”
The NCAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday. Regional action begins Friday.
The NCAA usually picks baseball and softball regional sites based on team performance, quality of facilities and financial considerations. This year, potential sites were predetermined because each must be evaluated for its ability to meet the NCAA’s COVID-19 protocols.
Oklahoma City hosts the Women’s College World Series each year. This year’s event will start June 3. Oklahoma’s House of Representatives has passed a bill to ban transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports. It’s unclear if the state’s GOP-controlled Senate will take the bill up, but Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt has said he supports the concept of athletes competing only against those who have the same sex at birth.
The World Series generates more than $20 million for Oklahoma City each year. The home state is usually is well-represented. Oklahoma has won four national titles, and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State both qualified for the event in 2019. Oklahoma is the No. 1 overall seed in this year’s bracket, while Oklahoma State is No. 5.
The NCAA pulled basketball tournament games out of North Carolina in 2017 in response to a bill that required transgender people to use restrooms according to their sex at birth and not their gender identity. The law was later repealed.