NCAA moves title contests out of N.J.; Lesniak, Christie blast decision

TRENTON The NCAA said Tuesday it will move several of its sports championships because it can’t hold them in New Jersey because  it  recently legalized betting for college and professional sports.

However, one major supporter of legalized sports betting, Sen. Raymond Lesniak, (D-20)  of Elizabeth, slammed the sports association for its decision to relocate five national and regional championship tournaments scheduled to be held in New Jersey in 2013 over the state’s decision to move forward with voter-approved sports wagering.

The championships that will be moving, all of which had already been scheduled to take place at various venues throughout the state, include:

*Division I Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships, Diving Regionals (Piscataway, March 14-17);

*Division I Women’s Basketball Championship, Trenton Regional (Trenton, March 30-April 2);

*Division III Men’s Volleyball Championship (Hoboken, April 26-28), and;

*Division II and III Women’s Lacrosse Championships (Montclair, May 18-19).

“Maintaining the integrity of sports and protecting student-athlete well-being are at the bedrock of the NCAA’s mission, and are reflected in our policies prohibiting the hosting of our championships in states that provide for single-game sports wagering,” said Mark Lewis, NCAA executive vice president of championships and alliances, in a prepared statement.

“Consistent with our policies and beliefs, the law in New Jersey requires that we no longer host championships in the state. We will work hard in the days ahead to find new suitable host locations which will allow the student-athletes to have the best possible competitive experience.”

Gov. Chris Christie signed Lesniak’s bill on legalized sports betting in January and the Division of Gaming Enforcement regulations on such betting were released this week, published in the state register.

Lesniak said while it’s unfortunate the high-profile sports events are moving out of state, sports betting on those very events will be a boon for the state. The law Christie signed specifically forbid bettors in New Jersey from placing bets on sports events taking place here.

“The NCAA said it is moving its championship games from New Jersey because we want sports betting. While we may lose these events, our athletes will still compete and we will gain billions of dollars in new revenues for our state, our casinos and our racetracks. To me, that’s a good trade.”

The Christie Administration also slammed the NCAA’s decision.

“The NCAA wants to penalize New Jersey for responsibly legalizing what occurs illegally every day in every state and often with the participation of organized crime,” said spokesman Michael Drewniak. “But the NCAA looks the other way for that? Ludicrous and hypocritical.”

Lesniak added it would be in the NCAA’s interest to move toward the acceptance of legalized sports betting, since illegal betting is already so big.

“The NCAA continually ignores the billions of dollars wagered illegally every year. In New Jersey we’re moving that betting from the backrooms where organized crime controls the books to out in the open, where it can be carefully regulated and monitored,” Lesniak said. “The NCAA and the professional leagues can yell all they want about ‘the integrity of sports,’ but until they embrace policies to wipe out the illegal books, those are just words.

“When the federal ban on sports betting is declared unconstitutional, other states will undoubtedly follow New Jersey’s lead. Then, the only place the NCAA will be able to have its championships played will be Utah.”

Prior to New Jersey’s recent action, only four states allowed legalized sports betting.

Earlier this year, the professional sports organizations filed a lawsuit trying to put a stop on gambling.

Assemblyman John Burzichelli, (D-3), Paulsboro, also blasted the decision.

“The NCAA has been never one to act logically, but moving its championship events out of New Jersey because of plans to implement legalized sports gaming strains credulity,” he said in a release.

“The NCAA is only going to allow championship games in places where gambling is taking place illegally. This is the biggest boon to organized criminal activity since Prohibition. I’m not sure why the NCAA would promote illegal gambling, but that’s what it’s doing here.” NCAA moves title contests out of N.J.; Lesniak, Christie blast decision