MONTCLAIR - The NCAA on Wednesday lifted a recent ban against New Jersey schools being allowed to host tournament games or championships sanctioned by college sports' governing body.
The NCAA informed its member schools of the decision in a memo after U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp in Trenton issued a permanent injunction Thursday barring New Jersey from offering sports betting in the state.
"I was just having this conversation with our staff and I said, 'Let's get everything ready and put in bids for anything we think we may be eligible for,' " Richard Stockton College director of athletics and recreation Lonnie Folks said in a phone interview after receiving the memo. "We haven't generally had the opportunity to host any in the past with our spring sports, but we'll certainly be on the lookout for anything break through."
Gov. Chris Christie signed a sports wagering law last year, but the NCAA and four major professional leagues challenged it.
In a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon, the NCAA said the court ruling determined that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 was constitutional and continues to outlaw sports betting nationwide, excluding a few states.
"As a result, effective immediately, New Jersey-based member schools are allowed to host non-predetermined sites of NCAA championships," the NCAA statement said. "Going forward, New Jersey schools and conferences may also be considered to host future championships events. We are excited that New Jersey student-athletes can now compete on their home field."
The memorandum written by Mark Lewis, the executive vice president of championships and alliances, said the NCAA ban would be reinstated if the state successfully appeals Shipp's ruling.
"It is certainly not our preference to change direction related to the application of the policy and be faced with the possibility of additional change due to the actions of New Jersey and any subsequent court determinations," Lewis wrote. "However, the fact that at present we can allow student-athletes to compete on their 'home field' is worth the potential for future disruptions."
Folks said in October that Stockton had been considering bidding for a future NCAA golf championship at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club. That and other options could again be possible.
"(Hosting a neutral-site event) is definitely on our radar and we're very excited about it," Folks said Wednesday. "Not just for Stockton but also for the other schools in the (New Jersey Athletic Conference) and those that haven't gotten the opportunity in the past."
The NCAA decision came roughly two weeks too late, though, to help the undefeated women's basketball team at Montclair State (29-0), which last week had to play its first two games in the Division III women's tournament at Lebanon Valley in Pennsylvania.
The Red Hawks won those games and left for DePauw in Indiana on Wednesday for a third-round game against Christopher Newport (28-2). DePauw, the only other undefeated team left in the tournament, was to play Washington University (Mo.) in the other semifinal.
Carol Blazejowski, the associate vice president for university advancement at Montclair State University, said the timing of the decision to lift the ban was hard to swallow because players missed out on the thrill of having home games for the tournament.
"I read this yesterday and felt 'Wow, the timing of this could not be worse,' " Blazejowski said. "The worst part is if the New Jersey appeal goes through I am going to get a future email saying: 'Guess what? You no longer can host.' "
The ban previously had cost conferences and their member schools the chance to host neutral-site first- and second-round games in this year's Division I women's basketball tournament in Trenton; Division III volleyball at Stevens Tech; Division I men's and women's swimming and diving at Rutgers; and soccer and lacrosse at Montclair State.
Not all the teams in those events would have been from New Jersey, but some in lacrosse, soccer and basketball would have.
The biggest victim of the NCAA ban might have been the Prudential Center in Newark. Most insiders felt the arena would have been the site of the East Regional in men's basketball in 2015, but it was bypassed after Christie signed the sports gambling law and Syracuse, N.Y., got the regional.
"We are pleased the NCAA has chosen to lift its ban and we are looking forward to bidding on the next available dates for the East Regional championship," said Jeff Vanderbeek, the owner of the New Jersey Devils and the chairman of Devils Arena Entertainment, which operates the facility.
(Press correspondent Nyssa Dougherty contributed to this report).