NCAA lifts ban on its tournaments in New Jersey


MONTCLAIR, N.J. (AP) - 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.

Carol Blazejowski, the associate vice president for university advancement at Montclair State University, said she had received the NCAA memo.

The NCAA did not return calls or respond to an email seeking comment. The memorandum written by Mark Lewis, the NCAA executive vice president of championships and alliances, said the 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.

Blazejowski 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 Anne 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.

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.

Copyright 2017 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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