NCAA Weighs Future Championship Sites Against 'Religious Freedom' Law In Missouri

Sep 14, 2016

The NCAA has held its Big 12 Men's Basketball Championship at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri, 14 times, but that would change if the state's legislature passes a so-called "religious freedom" law.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

The NCAA has put off its December announcement on future championship sites to give itself the chance to monitor what happens in state legislatures this fall.

When the Missouri legislature re-convenes, it’s possible that a so-called "religious freedom" bill may pop up again on the agenda. That concerns Kansas City Sports Commission Executive Director Kathy Nelson. Especially since the sports commission submitted a record of 55 bids to the NCAA to host championships.

“For us, we have 55 have chances to get shot down if someone decides to vote for this,” said Nelson.

Nelson says that the NCAA and others such as the Big 12 Conference could have pulled up the stakes on future championships already scheduled for Kansas City if the religious freedom bill, known as SJR 39, passed last spring. Next spring, the Sprint Center in Kansas City will host a men’s Division I basketball regional with the winner advancing to the Final Four in Phoenix, Arizona.

The NCAA this week pulled seven championships out of the state of North Carolina because of its controversial HB2. Most visible is the first and second rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in Greensboro.

“It has happened now. It has truly happened,” said Nelson. “We’ve seen these championships pulled and a lot of championships. Everyone wants to know: What does that mean for us? It’s very personal.”

Because Kansas City is already locked in for a regional, chances are unlikely that the first and second rounds originally tabbed for Greensboro will be moved to Sprint Center. But that hasn’t stopped the Kansas City Sports Commission from examining the possibility of other championships moving from North Carolina to Kansas City.

In a current 10 day bidding process, the most likely possibilities of any bid to be forwarded to the NCAA from KC would be in Division I women’s golf next May, with the Swope course offered as the venue, or the Division II baseball championship over Memorial Day weekend at Community America Ballpark in Kansas City, Kansas.

In each case the Sports Commission needs an NCAA institution as a partner and an official host. For example, if it chooses, UMKC could be a host institution for Division I women’s golf and the MIAA conference, with its office based in KC, could move to the forefront as a potential partner in the Division II baseball venture.

“We’ve been on the phone. We’ve been talking through this,” said Nelson. “The other thing is we have to have communication with venues and hotels to make sure that there are available dates for when those championships will happen.”

At the moment, the Kansas Sports Commission and the city is a potential benefactor for the NCAA’s actions in North Carolina. However, there a scary feeling within the walls of the sports commission office in downtown Kansas City about the possibility of losing championships if SJR 39 passed in Missouri.

“This could have been us,” said Nelson. “We were one vote away from this this spring. When I think about my counterparts in North Carolina, it’s been very emotional for me.”

Greg Echlin is a sports reporter for KCUR 89.3. Reach him on Twitter @GregEchlin