The NCAA made a statement on transgender athletes. What does it mean for Florida?

Could the state see championships pulled?
In this Nov. 23, 2019, photo, runners compete in the men's NCAA Division I Cross-Country Championships in Terre Haute, Ind. Florida is slated to host this year's championships in November.
In this Nov. 23, 2019, photo, runners compete in the men's NCAA Division I Cross-Country Championships in Terre Haute, Ind. Florida is slated to host this year's championships in November. [ DOUG MCSCHOOLER | AP ]
Published Aug. 16, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — On Aug. 3, the National Collegiate Athletic Association made a statement that could have major ramifications for Florida — one of at least nine states to have banned transgender females from participating in women’s and girls’ scholastic sports.

The NCAA board of governors asked hosts of future collegiate championships to “reaffirm their commitment to ensure a nondiscriminatory and safe environment for all college athletes.”

“Any host who cannot commit to the nondiscrimination policy should contact the NCAA immediately,” the statement said.

The NCAA’s public pronouncement pointed to a long-simmering conflict between Florida Republicans and the college sports governing body. In April, while legislatures around the country were debating transgender athlete proposals, the NCAA warned lawmakers that it could pull championships from states that passed the laws. Florida GOP leaders pushed forward and passed SB 1028 largely along party lines. On June 1, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law.

Despite the apparent tension, it’s unclear what — if any — penalty the state might one day suffer. When asked what kind of conversations the NCAA has had with Florida championship hosts, a spokesperson said the organization had “nothing further to share at this time.”

When asked about the NCAA’s statement, state Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, a vocal supporter of the transgender athlete bill as it cleared the Legislature, said he believes the organization is bluffing.

“I think the NCAA was just trying to be woke, and just trying to placate the liberal folks,” Latvala said. “But I doubt very seriously that they’re going to pull the championships out of Florida.”

He noted that the NCAA let Florida host championship events even after the law passed. For example, Florida State hosted a women’s golf regional in May.

The Tampa Bay Sports Commission is scheduled to help the region stage numerous high-profile Division 1 NCAA events in the next few years, including the 2023 men’s Frozen Four, the 2023 women’s volleyball championship, the 2025 NCAA women’s Final Four and the 2026 men’s basketball first and second rounds.

When asked whether the commission has been in touch with the NCAA, executive director Rob Higgins said in a statement that his organization had. But he declined to offer specifics.

“Team Tampa Bay remains committed to providing a nondiscriminatory and safe environment for every college student-athlete that we have the privilege to host in our community,” Higgins said.

Rob Wilson, a spokesperson for Florida State University athletics, which is scheduled to host the men’s and women’s Division 1 cross country championships in November, said his organization, too, has been in touch with the NCAA. But Wilson said the NCAA told the university it will give more guidance soon.

It’s unclear what more information the NCAA would need to craft future rules. Transgender athlete bills have been in the national news for months.

Detractors of these Republican-led efforts say they are a thinly veiled attempt to discriminate against already marginalized transgender youth. Supporters say the legislation will keep athletics fair.

Get insights into Florida politics

Get insights into Florida politics

Subscribe to our free Buzz newsletter

We’ll send you a rundown on local, state and national politics coverage every Thursday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Democrats have warned for months that the state could suffer economic consequences as a result of the new law. Regional governments often tout NCAA championships as major tourism draws.

Related: If Florida transgender sports bill passes, NCAA says it could pull championships

But DeSantis has said any economic loss the state might suffer would be worth what he says is an effort to protect women and girls from transgender athletes unfairly usurping their athletic opportunities.

“You can’t be cowed by these organizations, and particularly by woke corporations,” DeSantis told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson the night he signed the bill. “If the price of having a tournament is that I have to deny equal opportunity to hundreds of thousands of young girl and women athletes throughout Florida, I am much more willing to stand with the girls, and to hell with these events.”

Florida’s transgender law faces a challenge in federal court in a suit filed by a 13-year-old middle school soccer player from Broward County. The plaintiff, “D.N.” is asking the courts to strike down the Florida law, arguing it violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“D.N. dreams of being on high school sports teams, whether it is in soccer or volleyball. She cannot imagine life without these experiences and feels it would be cruel to take this opportunity away from her,” the complaint reads. “D.N. has lived as a girl for years now and this is her true identity.”

The state has until August 23 to respond to the complaint, court records show.

Last year, a federal judge temporarily struck down the law passed in Idaho on which Florida’s transgender athlete bill was modeled. That decision is being appealed.