Matt Holt, the founder and CEO of U.S. Integrity, says his company visited five college athletic departments for on-site sports wagering educational sessions last year. This year, he’s received requests from about 50 schools.
“It’s been unbelievable growth,” Holt said.
The increased desire for sports betting education comes as the college sports industry has been hit with numerous violations. Former Alabama baseball head coach Brad Bohannon was fired after it came to light – in part due to U.S. Integrity’s work – that he allegedly shared inside information with an Ohio bettor.
Shortly after that situation evolved, Iowa and Iowa State revealed that numerous current athletes were being investigated for sports betting violations. Some players reportedly bet on their own games, and Iowa State defensive lineman Isaiah Lee allegedly bet against his team in a game he played.
An increased appetite for sports betting education has also come with increased focus from student-athletes, who Holt says have been been “much more attentive” during the roughly 90-minute presentations and Q&A sessions in recent weeks compared to previous years.
Education helps prevent infractions
Last year, Virginia Tech linebacker Alan Tisdale served a six-game suspension for placing wagers on the NBA Finals from a FanDuel account. During a team meeting about betting rules, Tisdale realized his wagers were in violation of NCAA rules and self-reported the mistake, for which he subsequently was suspended.
Tisdale didn’t try to hide his identity or cover his tracks like some violators; he simply wasn’t familiar with NCAA rules. With Virginia legalizing mobile sports betting, Tisdale assumed he was fine to wager on sports other than his own.
“He mistakenly believed that sports wagering was OK since the Virginia state law had changed,” Derek Gwinn, Virginia Tech’s senior associate athletic director for compliance, told Sports Handle.
Tisdale’s violation became a lesson for everyone inside the Virginia Tech athletic department. As part of its ongoing educational efforts, Virginia Tech covers sports wagering rules with each team at the beginning and end of every academic year. The athletic department also sends electronic communications to athletes throughout the year, especially before major sporting events like the Super Bowl, to refresh the players on NCAA rules.
Plenty of other college athletic departments are placing a renewed focus on betting education. Holt says U.S. Integrity will visit “basically every SEC school, every Big 12 school,” and then about 25 other colleges this year, with many of those visits scheduled for August.
Individual schools can supplement that with their own educational measures from coaches and athletic department compliance staff. The SEC schools, for example, invite U.S. Integrity to speak and answer key questions about NCAA and state-specific sports betting rules.
Holt says that the presentations are tweaked for each school, often using relevant case studies. When Holt visits Alabama’s football program, for instance, former Crimson Tide wide receiver Jameson Williams’ NFL suspension will be a point of discussion.
“I do think it hits home a lot better when you can use relevant recent case studies as examples,” Holt said.
Separately, Alabama head coach Nick Saban recently brought in Pete Rose to speak with his team about the possible consequences of wagering on your own sport. Saban wants his team to fully understand the risk of betting on games, which is why he opted to add guest speakers like Rose to an already robust educational program.
“We try to get the best speakers that we possibly can that will address issues that we’re facing in college football. … Obviously, you guys know what the issues are,” Saban said at Alabama’s media day. “And, you know, if you look at players that are suspended for gambling, drugs and alcohol, whatever — those are all things that we’re trying to educate players on relative to consequences of good and bad behavior, cause and effect.”
Thank you, Pete Rose for stopping by and talking with the team! pic.twitter.com/ViwqmWyX7m
— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) August 9, 2023
The NCAA includes information on its webpage about its sports wagering rules, and some conferences lend a hand to individual schools for educational matters. The MAC provides a basic template to its member schools for sports wagering education, for instance.
The MAC, which features 12 full-member schools competing in five states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, and Ohio) that all allow legal sports wagering, is also in the process of developing additional materials to create an ongoing educational process that gives athletes and coaches relevant information multiple times per semester.
“The idea is that it’s not a once a year or a once a semester check-the-box type of thing,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher told Sports Handle.
Steinbrecher suggested that educating athletes about betting policies should work similarly to any other important topic. In theory, professors shouldn’t briefly touch on a major topic just once during an early September class and then let it go until a final exam in December. Similarly, a football linebackers coach wouldn’t mention proper tackling form to his players once during spring football and never discuss it again.
“You learn by repetition,” Steinbrecher said.
Rapidly changing landscape
Gwinn said one of the biggest educational challenges for administrators is keeping student-athletes aware of rules in a rapidly evolving sports betting landscape. Holt echoed those thoughts and added that the transfer portal complicates matters. A student-athlete might understand the betting rules in their state one year, but those could look different the next if they switch to a school in another state.
“A lot of these rules and laws are new,” Holt said. “These young men and women change schools so frequently now. At the end of the day, you’re talking [about] people in new states with new laws and new regulations. Expecting that each and every one of them know what the state laws and gaming regulations are is probably a stretch.”
The NCAA recently changed its punishment system for sports betting violators. Explaining those new rules to student-athletes has been a focus for the U.S. Integrity team during this summer’s educational sessions.
In other instances, state laws are changing. Sports betting will go live in Kentucky in September, and mobile sportsbooks in North Carolina could go live before March Madness in 2024. Holt wants athletes in those states to understand how the legislative changes could impact them.
Even emphasizing unchanged state regulations is important to Holt, as athletes often aren’t aware of the rules in their jurisdictions.
“Some of them don’t realize that in the state they’re in, betting on their own team, even if they bet on themselves to do something positive, is actually a felony,” Holt said. “It’s a crime.”
In addition to going over laws, regulations, and case studies, Holt also shares insight into how geolocation services work during his in-person educational sessions.
He uses the example of a male athlete having his girlfriend or mom sign up for a mobile sports betting account on the athlete’s phone and the geolocation service subsequently identifying oddities. For example, if the account is registered to a non-athlete or a female athlete and it’s being used in the men’s basketball locker room, it’s a red flag.
“You could see a bunch of people with the ‘Scared Straight’ face on when that part comes up,” Holt said.
Holt’s company helps play an important role in detecting nefarious sports betting activity, but the U.S. Integrity founder desperately wants his educational sessions to prevent future issues in the industry.
“At the end of the day, we actually truly want to make a difference,” Holt said. “This isn’t about just doing a job, just providing a service. This is about us at U.S. Integrity doing the very best we can to — hopefully teach some of these men and women something, to at least have them learn something that they didn’t know.”