Thursday, July 18, 2024
    HomeSportsAs more states legalize sports betting, NCAA complications mount

    As more states legalize sports betting, NCAA complications mount

    Every Gophers athlete and employee of the athletic department receives a reminder/warning before the Super Bowl every year: Don’t bet on the game.

    The same message/warning comes right before March Madness: Don’t plunk down $5 to enter a bracket in a tournament pool.

    Want to participate in a fantasy football league if, say, you work in the Gophers athletic marketing office, handle payroll for the department or play on the softball team? Not allowed if there is an entry fee and the winner earns a payout.

    Those examples all violate NCAA rules.

    The messaging tied to gambling inside athletic departments from coast to coast will carry more realness now. College sports are abuzz over sports wagering after situations involving Iowa, Iowa State and Alabama came to light the past few weeks.

    Alabama fired its baseball coach after suspicious betting involving Crimson Tide games got flagged. More than 40 athletes at Iowa and Iowa State combined in a handful of sports are being investigated for sports wagering in a state where sports gambling is legal at age 21.

    The NCAA prohibits anyone associated with an athletic department — athlete, coach or staff employee — from betting on sports at any level in which the NCAA conducts a championship. That holds true even in states that have legalized sports gambling.

    More than 30 states have enacted laws legalizing sports wagering since the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way in 2018. Minnesota will get there eventually too.

    This shift has created a complicated position for college athletic departments because the NCAA has strict rules regarding gambling. That delicate dance also reeks of hypocrisy because, according to a New York Times report, as many as eight universities have formed partnerships with sports betting companies that funnel millions of dollars to schools in exchange for promoting gambling on campus.

    Talk about a mixed message.

    It sounds silly that an adult working in an athletic department is barred from participating in a March Madness office pool unless it’s free. And let’s not be naïve, either: College athletes everywhere play fantasy football. Is this really a problem worthy of discipline?

    The crux of the issue for college sports is that legalized gambling stokes the worst fear: point shaving.

    The concern being, if gambling becomes more accessible and more convenient and more widely embraced — thus creating more addiction and financial strain on individuals — the risk of someone tampering with a game’s outcome increases significantly.

    This is not a concern to take lightly.

    Athletic departments everywhere provide education about gambling to their athletes and employees each year. The Gophers address the topic with athletes at the beginning of each school year and again before the Super Bowl and NCAA basketball tournament.

    In 2018, the school brought in a player involved in the 1994 point-shaving scandal with the Arizona State men’s basketball to share his story with Gophers athletes.

    “Integrity of the game is a significant concern of ours,” said Jeremiah Carter, a senior Gophers athletic official whose job responsibilities include risk management. “But the mental health of our student athletes is always a priority.”

    Carter has closely monitored the legislative battle at the State Capitol over whether sports betting should be legalized. If/when sports wagering gets approval here, Carter believes the impact will require additional action by the department in three areas: the need to increase monitoring, more educational support and more mental health resources.

    “Online harassment that comes with legalized sports wagering is documented as significant,” he said.

    Carter referenced instances in which college athletes across the country have received online threats of violence after their performance affected a game’s point spread.

    That is a sad, sickening thought. No athlete deserves that treatment. But it’s an unfortunate reality that schools and athletes are forced to confront, and the fear inside the industry is that legalized betting will lead to more harassment.

    Gambling is not a new issue in college sports. Changes to the legality of gambling have added a new dimension that guarantees to keep these stories in the headlines.

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