McFeely blog: N.D. Republicans move against transgender athletes; could impact NCAA games in state

A similar law was recently declared unconstitutional in Idaho, but NCAA still mulling whether tournament games should be banned from the state

NCAA logo
We are part of The Trust Project.

BISMARCK — North Dakota Republicans have introduced a bill that would ban transgender athletes from competing on team sports of their preferred gender.

Aside from the real purpose of the bill, which is to discriminate against LGBTQ students, it might also impact the state's ability to host NCAA-sanctioned events if passed.

House Bill 1298 says schools that receive public funding would not be allowed to let an athlete who "was assigned the opposite sex at birth to participate on an athletic team ... which is exclusively for females or exclusively for males."

The bill would also ban state-funded entities from sponsoring athletic events that include transgender athletes and would not allow state-funded facilities to allow transgender athletes to compete in them.


The bill is sponsored by Republican representatives Ben Koppelman (West Fargo), Lisa Meier (Bismarck), Bob Paulson (Minot), Austen Schauer (West Fargo), Kathy Skroch (Lidgerwood), Vicky Steiner (Dickinson), Steve Vetter (Grand Forks) and senators David Clemens (West Fargo), Jordan Kannianen (Stanley) and Janna Myrdal (Edinburg).

Similar bills have made their way through state legislatures in Republican-controlled states in recent years. They come with consequences.

A law passed in Idaho in 2020, wrongly titled the "Fairness in Women’s Sports Act" to make it more palatable to the public, could cost Boise an NCAA men's basketball regional tournament in March 2021. Idaho's House Bill 500, like North Dakota's proposed law, bans athletes who were born male but now identify as female from participating in women's sports.

A federal judge declared the law unconstitutional in August, invoking a preliminary injunction. That is not the final say in the lawsuit, but the judge said the "plaintiffs are likely to succeed in establishing the Act is unconstitutional."

That hasn't stopped the NCAA from indicating it could take action. College sports' governing body, long willing to move its competitions from states that enact discriminatory laws, has indicated it is mulling whether to move the NCAA basketball tournament games. It hasn't yet made a decision, saying in November it will wait to see if there is a final decision on the court case.

The NCAA Board of Governors, according to its official report, said: "Board members shared that several advocacy groups have contacted them requesting the NCAA move the 2021 Division I men's basketball championship events out of Idaho. The board noted that it is premature to act but confirmed its position that the law is harmful to transgender student-athletes and is counter to the NCAA’s core values of inclusivity, respect and equitable treatment of all individuals. The board agreed to continue to monitor the potential impact of this law on the Division I men’s basketball events scheduled for Boise in March."

Key phrase: "... the law is harmful to transgender student-athletes and is counter to the NCAA’s core values of inclusivity, respect and equitable treatment of all individuals." It is clear where the NCAA stands.


If such a law were to pass North Dakota's legislature, it could have a devastating impact to the state universities that sponsor athletics under the NCAA.

The University of North Dakota is scheduled to host a men's hockey regional at Scheels Arena in Fargo this spring, and has hosted regionals in the state in the past. Presumably, future tournaments would be jeopardized by the passage of HB 1298.

North Dakota State's football team regularly hosts NCAA playoff games at the Fargodome, contests that would be put in jeopardy by the bill.

Those are real-world implications of HB 1298. The biggest insult remains, however, that it is an openly discriminatory law aimed at young people, wrapped in the guise of trying to make things "fair" for other athletes.

(Readers can reach Forum columnist Mike McFeely at (701) 451-5655 or

Opinion by Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
What to read next
As incredible as it sounds, there effectively is no penalty in North Dakota for suspects who run away from police. That has to change.
Republicans apparently think everybody hates public education as much as they do, which is far from the truth in Minnesota
Downtown Fargo has to offer more than bricks, asphalt and concrete. The city should be creative and strategic about providing green spaces downtown.