What if a professor asks a football player why he is limping? Or what if a basketball player misses class because he has a concussion, but doesn’t want anyone to know? Or what if an athlete is wearing a temporary boot, and a friend sees him?
These are all questions Purdue faculty and staff asked themselves when Indiana began considering legalizing sports betting earlier this year. And their answer to all of the questions was the same: Then the athlete can’t really be a student.
Because of these concerns, Purdue on Friday became the first public university to prohibit its faculty, staff, students and contractors from betting on sporting events involving Purdue athletic teams. In the sports betting community, the decision likely won’t sit well — viewed as just another opportunity for illegal black market bookmakers to maintain a foothold in sports betting, outside the purview of regulators.
But that position simply does not resonate inside the walls of the academic institutions.
Valuing the student-athlete
For Purdue officials, they made the decision in an effort, they believe, to protect students and attempt to allow the Boilermakers’ big-time college athletes to have some semblance of a normal college experience.
“We really value the student-athlete experience and emphasize the student in ‘student-athlete,'” Associate Professor and University Senate Chairperson Cheryl Cooky told Sports Handle. “I think it’s a different ethos, a different culture, a different philosophy than you might expect at a big-time Big 10 member.
“A faculty member … raised some concerns about our ability as a faculty to really be able to educate, mentor, and advise our students (in this new environment), and conversely, for a student-athlete to feel like they can fully trust in the academic spaces they move in.”
Indiana legalized sports betting in May, and state-licensed operators went began opening physical sportsbooks on Labor Day weekend, ahead of the NFL season. About a dozen bricks-and-mortar sportsbooks opened in September, and three mobile books have gone online since. Student and faculty, assuming they are 21 and up, are still free to place legal wagers on competitions not involving Purdue.
Purdue is not alone in trying to find a way in which to insulate its student-athletes from the new sports betting landscape. In Pennsylvania, which also has legal sports betting, both Villanova and St. Joseph’s have put similar policies in place. While Villanova has a high-profile men’s basketball team that has won the NCAA tournament in two of the last four years, Purdue is the first school with a big-time football program in a Power 5 conference to do so.
Privacy for college athletes
— Purdue Football (@BoilerFootball) October 20, 2019
The Boilermakers, and many other athletic departments across the country, are sensitive to the difference between being a college athlete and a professional athlete. As an example, Purdue compliance officer Tom Mitchell offered up this scenario:
“Maybe our quarterback has a foot injury, and has a boot, but is probably going to play,” Mitchell said. “His roommates see that, he takes the bus, he goes to class, then he goes in (to the athletic facility) and takes the boot off for treatment. He practices and gets more treatment, then gets back on the bus and goes back home. About 1,000-3,000 people saw him.”
That exposure dwarfs what a pro athlete experiences. The Tom Brady’s of the world can get into their cars in the garage, drive to a practice facility, get out of the car behind a fence, walk into the team facility, and no one is the wiser. The possibility exists for a media or staff member to see the pro athlete, but a pro athlete could go through that whole routine sight unseen.
In addition, pro athletes are far more insulated than college athletes on a day-to-day basis. As a pro, you can surround yourself exclusively with friends, family, team staff, people you trust. As a college athlete, you may be out in the community all day long.
“We don’t want our students worrying about disclosing to a professor that they are not feeling well or about talking to their peers about what’s going in their lives,” Cooky said. “We don’t want them wondering, ‘If I tell my friend that I broke up with my girlfriend, will this be used against me?’ It’s about allowing our athletes to be fully who they are in this space without censoring their behavior and without potentially worrying about it becoming some sort of advantage in terms of gaming the system.”
The new policy at Purdue will be tough to enforce, and Cooky said the university understands that it is a work in progress. The penalties are stiff — faculty or staff caught betting on Purdue teams are subject to termination, and students are “subject to appropriate discipline,” according to the text of the policy.
“For us, what was important was ensuring we had a policy,” Cooky said. “How do you sanction? How do you police? That might create some challenges. But that in and of itself isn’t a reason not to do something.
“It’s going to be a process for us to manage. But I don’t think throwing your hands in the air is a satisfactory answer for us.”