Minnesota State coach says travel ban is lost opportunity for athletes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota State-Mankato's baseball coach on Wednesday lamented the lost opportunity for his team if it were to qualify for the NCAA Division II championship and couldn't play because the tournament is in North Carolina.
Matt Magers said he believes Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system leaders were well-intentioned when they decided to prohibit sports teams from traveling to tournaments in North Carolina this spring after that state passed a law limiting specific protections for gays, lesbians and transgender people.
System communications director Doug Anderson said school presidents met this week and concluded "athletics-related travel is nonessential." The NCAA Division II tournament and National Junior College Athletic Association Division III World Series are set to take place in North Carolina.
Magers coached Mankato teams to the Division II tournament four times from 2010-14, with the 2013 squad the national runner-up.
"It's a life-changing experience, lifetime opportunity, and that's everybody's goal at the end of the season, to get to the national tournament," Magers said. "To have that possibly taken away is tough. In the grand scheme of things, there are things you work for that you aren't going to be able to accomplish. It should be about the student-athlete, and it would be unfortunate if they couldn't go because of things out of their control."
The Minnesota system oversees six Division II schools and two dozen junior colleges. The travel ban follows Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton's separate directive to state employees last month to stop nonessential travel to North Carolina because of its new law. The order didn't directly apply to the University of Minnesota system.
Mankato is having another strong season, with a 27-14 record, but the Minnesota teams that would appear to have the best chances of qualifying for the national tournament this year are St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth.
Entering Wednesday, St. Cloud State was 34-6 and ranked third nationally in Division II. UMD was 33-9, a winner of 18 straight games and ranked No. 16.
St. Cloud is in the state colleges and universities system and, like Mankato, would be barred from competing in North Carolina. UMD is in the university system, but it also might stay home if it qualifies.
"UMD Athletics and the University of Minnesota strongly oppose the recent discriminatory legislation in North Carolina," UMD athletic director Josh Berlo said in a statement. "Should UMD Baseball advance to the NCAA Tournament and the legislation still be in place, UMD Athletics would prudently assess the situation at that time."
Mankato's Magers said he had not spoken with his players about the travel ban.
"As a coach, we try to keep our team focused on the task at hand and that's our games today, and we finish our regular season this weekend and then there's our conference tournament," Magers said. "This is something that is beyond our control at this point, so you trust that the people making those decisions have made them for the right reasons."