This is the first of a two-part story examining the NCAA’s stance on sports betting and how best to manage it going forward. Tomorrow, a look at ways the NCAA can monetize sports betting.
Auburn. Boston College. Northwestern. San Diego State. And most recently, UNC-Greensboro.
What do these five colleges have in common? If you’re into sports betting, you had the answer before the question was asked — sports betting scandals. At Auburn and Boston College, it was point shaving in basketball; at Northwestern, players fixed games in 1995; at San Diego State it was sports bribery and throwing games in 2011.
Although the Greensboro incident didn’t nearly rise to that level or involve players or match-fixing, the NCAA levied three years probation against the school — among other penalties — after discovering that three former members of the school’s athletics staff violated NCAA rules by placing sports bets, including some on the basketball team.
The sports betting landscape was much different when those scandals cast a pall over collegiate athletics as legal, state-regulated sports wagering takes hold across the U.S. But more than a year after the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, the NCAA is holding fast to what many in the industry call an outdated sports betting policy.
Last Wednesday, the association reaffirmed its opposition to sports betting and declined to introduce weekly injury reports similar to those used in the professional leagues, which proponents believe would curtail the availability of inside information and its trading.
Standardized injury reports will not be implemented this season after the NCAA explored the possibility in response to the rise of legalized sports bettinghttps://t.co/5nkZ2DKq6M
— SI College Football (@si_ncaafb) August 8, 2019
Seventeen jurisdictions outside of Nevada now have some form of legal sports betting, including many in which NCAA teams play.
“If we look at the major sports betting scandals of the last 15-20 years, they’re mostly around collegiate sports,” said Matthew Holt, president of U.S. Integrity, a company that offers unbiased integrity monitoring around sports betting. Holt says his company represents more than 100 universities, including members of the Pac-12, Big 12, SEC, Big West, WCC and Ivy conferences, as well as 31 other universities.
“Other than the Tim Donaghy case, they’re all collegiate, and with good reason — the athletes are the most vulnerable.
“The idea of the NCAA not taking a role in monitoring doesn’t seem like the best approach.”
NCAA looking into impacts of sports betting
Yet that’s exactly what the NCAA has chosen to. Against a landscape where legal sports betting is spreading to states with key NCAA participants — Indiana, home to Notre Dame and host of the Final Four in 2021 and 2026, expects to launch sports betting by football season; Pennsylvania, where three-time basketball champion Villanova and storied Penn State football both reside already has legal sports betting; and Oregon, where the Ducks football team got to the national championship twice this decade, will have sports betting via its lottery as soon as September.
The news of the NCAA’s latest decision to not mandate injury reporting was met with criticism in the media, but according to a CBS story, the decision came from the NCAA’s membership.
According to a July 2018 press release, the NCAA formed a committee to study integrity, protecting student athletes, and educating athletes and staff about sports betting. That said, an informal look at what kinds of tools the NCAA has offered to schools to help educate athletes about sports betting revealed that little has changed over the last year. The NCAA still has its longstanding “opposition to sports betting” policy on its website.
With the college football season looming and the NCAA still failing to take concrete action, it seems a good time to ask: What SHOULD the NCAA do about sports betting? The NCAA itself declined to comment on this question, but experts across sports betting have plenty of ideas.
Education should be top priority
From operators to industry watchers, sports betting professionals say that if the NCAA does nothing else, it should develop more intensive and state-specific educational programs for its student-athletes, coaches, sports administrators, and anyone else associated with a college sports team.
“If the NCAA really wants to tackle this, they should have some sort of program that is rolled out to every (athletic) program in the country,” said Becky Harris, former head of the Nevada Gaming Control Board and current academic fellow at UNLV’s International Center for Gaming Regulation. “It should include what sports betting is in that state, and how athletes should handle it. I think what they want to do is clarify, and promulgate rules so athletes, coaches, referees, anyone involved knows what to do. Having an articulated policy helps because it makes the student-athlete take it seriously.”
NCAA officials might argue that developing a program for its 1,200 members isn’t as easy as it sounds. They’d be right — such a program would have to cover everything from prohibiting student-athletes or coaches from placing sports bets to the intricacies of sports betting law in each state. But Harris isn’t the only one who thinks having such a policy is paramount to protecting not just the game, but the student-athletes.
“We’re the first to acknowledge that college athletes are move vulnerable, accessible,” said Chris Cylke, senior vice president of government relations for the American Gaming Association. “Education on the part of the NCAA and their colleges is a good thing. And making student-athletes understand the new reality — that they ought not to be tempted to throw a game because there are new safeguards in place and they are much more likely to be caught — is important.”
As college football season ramps up, some schools are taking education into their own hands. While the NCAA does have a broad educational tool called “Don’t Bet on It,” at Iowa, the athletics department decided that wasn’t enough in a state where legal sports betting is set to launch on Aug. 15.
As sports betting goes online more efforts are needed to educate athletes :Iowa 'doubling down' on gambling education https://t.co/WVFoLOlg7n
— Sally Gainsbury (@DrSalGainsbury) July 22, 2019
“We have to make sure that our student-athletes are reminded of ways that gambling can intervene in your life,” Iowa athletic director Gary Barta told the Daily Iowan in July. “You might have somebody in your dorm who you feel like is a friend, and they’re asking you questions about, ‘How’s so and so doing?’ Sometimes, that person might be asking because they’ve been paid as a runner, so we’re educating our student-athletes.”
Barta said the latest dose of education isn’t just for athletes — it’s for coaches, staff, student staff, advisors, consultants, virtually anyone who touches the Hawkeyes’ football program.
And Iowa isn’t the only one. Universities from Mississippi to Pennsylvania to New Jersey — all of which have live legal sports betting — are finding new ways to educate their student-athletes, coaches and support staff. In fact, ACC Commissioner John Swofford acknowledged that his conference is already talking to athletes and staff about how the landscape has changed.
“They’re very uncomfortable with the position it can put them in with their fellow students, how they might be perceived walking into a classroom, and another student is mad because they did something that cost them some money,” Swofford said in his media-day address in Charlotte last month.
Injury reporting would level playing field
The idea of a college injury report was first floated last year by Big Ten Commission Jim Delany. The ACC has used injury reports in the past, and Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby acknowledged during his conference’s media days that injury reports could help curb the flow of information.
“A mandatory reporting would eliminate people skulking around trying to find a leak that could give them inside information, so there could be a case made for it,” he said during Big 12 media day last month in Arlington, Texas.
Conceptually, the idea behind injury reporting is that with teams acknowledging who may or may not play, there is no market for information about the physical well-being players. It essentially levels the betting playing field, by giving all bettors — and fans in general — access to the same information. Athletes and administrators are already banned from betting, or even entering a casino in many states, so injury reporting would just be one more layer of protection for the universities.
Yet according to the CBS story, the colleges themselves — the very voices out there pushing for ways to protect their athletes — were the ones who quashed the idea during the NCAA’s study.
In the NFL, for a Sunday game, teams must post their practice participate report daily beginning Wednesday, and a game participation report by Friday afternoon. Practice reports are further broken down into three categories — Did Not Participate, Limited Participation, and Full Participation — while game reports include Out, Doubtful, and Questionable categories. Game reports are due by 4 p.m. EST Friday for Sunday games.
So, how might things for colleges and their athletes change going forward in the new world of legal sports betting? Certainly, coaches, administrators and athletes are already learning to be more protective of information, in particular surrounding a player’s physical condition.
Coaches will likely be more and more protective of their players’ privacy and who they socialize with. They’ll also likely firmly remind student-athletes that even trying to place a sports bet could result in a loss of scholarship or, for those athletes who aspire to play professional sports, that getting caught placing a bet could jeopardize that dream.
But with the NCAA remaining staid in its opposition to sports betting and failing to be proactive in offering ways to better protect their players, it is, in effect, keeping its head in the sand.
“The NCAA can no longer sit on the sidelines when it comes to sports betting,” said Brendan Bussmann of the gaming consulting firm Global Market Advisors. “They have to get in the game, come up with a game plan, and figure out how it is a benefit for their schools, student-athletes, staff and the fan, so they can continue to keep athletics at the collegiate level in the amateur environment that exists today.
“It’s the middle of the second quarter. And the team still has not taken the field.”
The AGA’s Cylke agrees: “The professional leagues have kind of come to grips with the idea that this is going to happen, and have moved forward. The NCAA is still sort of an outlier that continues to beat the drum.”