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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The newly-renovated USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex in OKC may have to go without NCAA events if Senate Bill 2 currently in the Oklahoma Legislature becomes law.

While praised by politicians on the political right in Oklahoma’s Legislature, the bill restricting transgender youth in high school and college sports may cause businesses in Oklahoma City to suffer. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) policies on transgender participants was just recently affirmed by that organization.

The NCAA Board of Governors issued a statement April 12 stating, “The NCAA Board of Governors firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports.”

And if the NCAA pulls out of the USA Softball Hall of Fame, it could cost Oklahoma City businesses over $10 million estimated spent here each year on tournaments at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex at Lincoln Park on the east side of Oklahoma City.

It could also leave the softball complex to sit with much smaller events this year and perhaps for years to come after OKC taxpayers invested $25 million in 2019 for renovations.

OKC taxpayer investments

In 2017 residents of Oklahoma City passed a set of General Obligation, or GO, Bonds packaged as “Better Streets, Safer City,” taking the name from the sales tax placeholder between MAPS 3 and MAPS 4. 

Passage of the Bond provided $25,000,000 to the complex. Since then, seating has been increased dramatically, restroom facilities have been expanded, and many other structural improvements have been made.

Some enhancements include new and improved accommodations for the press, specifically an area for ESPN to have commentators broadcasting live from the 13,000 seat stadium.

These improvements help accommodate the complex’s biggest annual event, the NCAA Women’s College World Series as well as a number of other softball events with national prominence. The stadium is set to host the NCAA tournament for the 30th time this year. That would have been 31, but COVID had different plans for 2020.

The tournament format features two double-elimination brackets of four teams each. The six day long event takes place from June 3-9 this summer.

Softball Hall of Fame
The Oklahoma City Softball Hall of Fame field underwent extensive renovation in 2019. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

Economic Impact

According to calculations by the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), this year’s NCAA tournament stands to bring a significant impact to Oklahoma City’s economy.

In an abundance of caution, this year’s tournament attendance will be limited to 50% capacity. With 6500 available seats, and fans and teams from across the country descending on Oklahoma City for the tournament, the CVB estimates adding $13.3 million to the local economy.

In 2022, the stadium is expected to be at full capacity in time for the NCAA tournament. With 13,000 seats and up to 2000 standing-room-only tickets, the CVB anticipates an impact of $24-27 million in Oklahoma City.

During a meeting of the City Council of Oklahoma City on Tuesday, USA Softball CEO Craig Cress gave the Council a brief presentation on updates to the stadium complex. After his presentation, Ward 7 Councilwoman Nikki Nice asked Cress if he was concerned about recent legislation in Oklahoma affecting the tournament’s future.

In his role as the CEO of a 501c3, Cress was not willing to opine on politics. However, he said, as an individual he believes that losing the Tournament would be devastating for the stadium complex and for Oklahoma City.

Tournament Uncertainty

On April 20, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 2, which bans transgender girls and women from participating in sports at the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary level consistent with their gender. The bill also requires parents to file an annual affidavit confirming the gender of their child.

That bill passed a week after the NCAA released a statement on inclusion of transgender athletes in sports.

“The NCAA Board of Governors,” their statement began, “firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports. This commitment is grounded in our values of inclusion and fair competition.”

The NCAA’s Office of Inclusion published their policy on Inclusion of Transgender Student-Athletes in 2011. Since then the NCAA has been publicly affirming of student-athletes who are transgender. According to their statement, the NCAA believes “inclusion and fairness can coexist with all student-athletes, including transgender athletes, at all levels of sport.”

The statement concluded with a warning for states across the country that, like Oklahoma, have been pushing legislation to discriminate against transgender athletes.

“When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected. We will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants.”

Last Updated April 28, 2021, 2:09 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor