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  • Writer's pictureVeronica Sansone

Oklahoma risks losing Softball Championship post-Dobbs

Updated: Jan 17

Since 1990, Oklahoma has hosted the NCAA Division I Softball World Series. But recently, the state gained media attention due to its restrictive abortion statute.[2] The new legislation bans abortions starting at fertilization, while also allowing private individuals to sue anyone who “aids and abets an abortion.” [3][4] In addition to the new abortion legislation, the state has also banned transgender women from playing in women’s sports.[5] This compilation of the restrictive legislation is causing many to question if the NCAA should continue to allow Oklahoma to host one of the most prominent championships in women’s sports.[6]

Questioning a state’s eligibility to host a college championship is not a new issue. For example, the NCAA has previously revoked a state’s privilege of hosting championships due to political and legislative controversies in the past.[7] In 2017, after North Carolina passed a law no longer allowing transgender women to use women’s restrooms, the NCAA moved the men’s basketball championship games out of the state.[8] More recently, the NCAA threatened to withhold championships from taking place in Mississippi if confederate imagery was not removed from the state’s flag.[9] These past actions by the NCAA show the organization is not scared to speak out.

However, the NCAA has stayed silent about Oklahoma’s abortion legislation and the aftermath of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization Supreme Court decision. In 2008, the NCAA released a structured plan, known as the Model Pregnancy and Parenting Student-Athlete Handbook, to athletes and administrators for how to handle unexpected pregnancies.[10][11] The goal of this plan is to “improve compliance with federal law and NCAA bylaws, and help institutions create a safe, healthy environment while fulfilling their educational missions.” [12] These goals are achieved by explaining every option to a pregnant female athlete.[13] But since Dobbs, many schools within the SEC, Big 12, and Big Ten are located in states that have banned abortions, thus creating disparities for female athletes playing within the those conferences and those who are not.[14]

Furthermore, hosting a championship brings millions of dollars in revenue and media to the state.[15] This obvious financial incentive is another element the NCAA will have to strongly consider when contemplating revoking a state's permission to host championships due to new abortion legislation.[16] Due to the heated nature of the Dobbs decision, a championship tournament relocation due to a state’s abortion laws will most likely cause increased controversy.[17] This issue is especially tricky because the NCAA relies on memberships from all 50 states, each with a potentially different stance on abortion legislation.[18] However, choosing not to move a championship based on a state’s controversial or restrictive abortion statute could create more disparity for female student athletes across the country. Even so, the Division I Softball Championship is still set to be held in Oklahoma this coming season.[19]

The committee for women’s sports is set to have its next meeting this fall, where many speculate the issue of abortion rights will be discussed.[20] One theory is that the NCAA will handle the developing abortion issue the same way the organization handled mental health and racism, by waiting for the athletes to press their leaders.[21] Since public information available about this issue is limited, we will most likely have a better understanding of how the NCAA handles the issue after the fall semester.[22] However the NCAA chooses to treat a state’s restrictive abortion legislation will set a new standard within college women's sports.

References [2] Billy Witz. Oklahoma’s Abortion Law Raises Questions About NCAA’s Softball World Series. (10 June 2022) [3] Id. [4] Oklahoma governor signs the nation’s strictest abortion ban. (26 May 2022) [5] Matt Lavietes. Oklahoma governor signs transgender sports ban. (30 March 2022) [6] Witz, supra. [7] Id. [8] Marc Tracy and Alan Blinder. NCAA Moves Championship Events From North Carolina, Citing Anti-Gay-Rights Law. (12 Sept. 2016) [9] Witz, supra. [10] Molly Hensley-Clancy. With NCAA silent on abortion bans, college sports face confusion. (28 July 2022) [11] Witz, supra. [12] Nancy Hogshead-Makar, J.D., and Elizabeth A. Sorensen, Ph.D. NCAA Gender Equality Pregnant and Parenting Student-Athletes Resources and Model Policies. Page 5 (2008) [13] Id. at 67. (Utilizing a flow chart created for coaches and athletic departments on the proper steps to handle each stage and options available for an unexpected pregnancy.) [14] Nancy Armour. Patchwork abortion laws, outdated school policies leave college athletes with uncertainty. (7 Sept. 2022) [15] Witz, supra. [16] Id. [17] Id. [18] Id. [19] Id. [20] Id. [21] Id. [22] See Armour, supra

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