After a sports wagering scandal within the University of Alabama’s baseball program and violations at both the University of Iowa and Iowa State University, the NCAA plans to take a closer look at the impact of sports betting on college athletics.
The association shared a lengthy media release Tuesday, outlining how it plans to study and review sports gambling in coming months and years.
“As more states legalize sports betting and as hundreds of millions of dollars are spent advertising to young people across the nation, everyone from parents to coaches, campus leaders, state regulators, and the NCAA have to work together to make sure all young people know the rules and know what problem gambling looks like,” NCAA President Charlie Baker said. “Advertisers may see this as an emerging market, but this could be an emerging threat to young people everywhere if we all don’t work together.”
The NCAA recently conducted a national survey on sports betting habits of people between the ages of 18 and 22, and it plans to release the results in “the coming weeks.” The NCAA also plans to conduct a national sports wagering survey of student-athletes during the 2023-24 academic year.
Competitive integrity concerns
Sports betting increases fan engagement, arguably a positive for the future of college sports, and bracket pools and sports betting play an important role in the national relevance of March Madness. The NCAA is aware of that, but the association also wants to make sure there are practices in place to ensure that widespread mobile sports betting doesn’t jeopardize the competitive integrity of games.
The NCAA works with integrity monitoring services, allowing it to track suspicious betting activity across numerous sports. The NCAA’s release stated that of approximately 13,000 regular and postseason competitions with wagering offered, “less than 0.25% of competitions are flagged for suspicious betting patterns, and a much smaller percentage have specific, actionable information.”
“While sports wagering creates opportunities for our fans to uniquely engage with NCAA competition in a legal and responsible manner, we have to be mindful of the enhanced risks it creates, particularly around student-athlete well-being and competition integrity,” said Stan Wilcox, the NCAA’s executive vice president of regulatory affairs. “Those areas have been a key priority for us, and we’ve tried to roll out initiatives in a manner that creates the most value for the membership.”
Impactful initiatives from the @NCAA. Effective athlete and consumer education requires the combined commitment of every sports betting stakeholder. https://t.co/eNJCOJ5U95
— Bill Miller (@BillMillerAGA) May 16, 2023
NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes from wagering on any sport that has an NCAA-sponsored championship (baseball, basketball, football, soccer, etc.) and from sharing information with bettors. The Alabama baseball situation drew concerns from the NCAA and the industry, as the team’s head coach was in contact with a sports bettor as he placed a wager against Alabama, indicating information-sharing.
In addition to working with integrity monitoring services, the NCAA has a hotline (317-917-6008) for people to report possible match-fixing activity. The NCAA also partners with EPIC Risk Management to provide educational resources to member schools. The partnership includes both in-person and online training and resources, focusing on topics like gambling addiction, athlete well-being, and protecting competitive integrity.
Mental health research
While the NCAA cares significantly about the competitive integrity of contests, the organization also hopes to learn more about how gambling affects student-athlete mental health, which became a focal point coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
College coaches and athletes have been outspoken in recent months about the online abuse directed at them by angry gamblers. University of Dayton men’s basketball coach Anthony Grant even used a January press conference following a victory to address the subject. Grant felt his players were subjected to increased social media harassment following the launch of legal sports betting in Ohio.
“The NCAA Mental Health Advisory Group is updating the current Best Practices document, which serves as the legislative basis for mental health care for all member schools,” said Dr. Brian Hainline, chief medical officer at the NCAA. “Part of their updated focus is to address the potentially negative impact of social media harassment and abuse, which often springs from individuals who are involved with sport corruption or wagering. In addition, there will be updated guidance on management of gambling disorders.”
Some regulators and legislators have suggested banning people from wagering in states if they’ve used social media to harass players, coaches, or officials. Tracking that behavior, though, is a significant challenge, and it may also be a struggle to determine what’s considered harassment and what’s an acceptable level of complaining about a fan’s favorite team.