NCAA Officials Talk Sports Betting

The commissioners of two of NCAA Division 1 conferences offered reactions to the coming of legalized sports betting in respective Media Day comments. The chief legal officer of the National Collegiate Athletic Association said the organization must “evolve and expand” to meet the challenges posed by legal sports betting.

The commissioners of two of the largest conferences in Division 1 of the National Collegiate Athletic Association used their Media Day comments to offer thoughts on possible strategies to deal with the expansion of legalized sports betting.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany floated the idea of charging a fee for “player availability lists”—national weekly injury lists of players in NCAA sports—to be used for the purposes of oddsmaking by sports-betting operators and information for sports bettors.

“The availability of personnel, whether it comes from injury or transgression (suspension), is critical to people who are interested in gambling legally and illegally,” Delany at the Chicago opening of Big Ten Media Days. “When players are unavailable, we should know that.”

Delany added that the Big Ten is planning to “double down” on player education concerning the pitfalls of sports gambling.

Meanwhile, Big 12 conference Commissioner Bob Bowlsby took a more cautious approach at Big 12 Media Days. “I didn’t have that in my notes, largely because I didn’t have anything intelligent to say about it,” Bowlsby said in answer to a reporter’s question on sports betting. “I think we’re very much in a wait-and-see environment right now.”

That includes whether or not the conference will seek integrity fees or fees for data as suggested by the Big Ten’s Delany. “There’s a lot of talk about integrity fees,” Bowlsby said. “There is a lot of talk about how it gets managed. Are we really going to end up with 50 states that all have different laws on legalized gambling?”

On injury data, Bowlsby noted that the Big 12 does not presently force coaches to release such information. “We haven’t chosen to do it because we want to get some answers relative to the student records,” Bowlsby said. “My sense is that there’s going to be a human cry for that to happen, and as long as we don’t get too far into the specifics of what the injury is and what kind of medication they may be taking, some sort of simple system may work.”

Meanwhile, the NCAA last week reiterated its opposition to any wagering on college sports, while announcing the formation of an internal task fore to explore ways to protect the integrity of college sports in the face of expanded sports wagering following the U.S. Supreme Court’s elimination of the federal sports-betting ban included in the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).

“As sports wagering in the United States expands, the NCAA national office is examining the long-term impact on college sports,” wrote the NCAA on its website. “An internal team of subject matter experts will explore how best to protect game integrity, monitor betting activity, manage sports data and expand educational efforts.”

“While we certainly respect the Supreme Court’s decision, our position on sports wagering remains,” said Donald Remy, NCAA chief legal officer, in the website statement. “With this new landscape, we must evolve and expand our longstanding efforts to protect both the integrity of competitions and the well-being of student-athletes.”

The internal working group, composed of subject matter experts from across the national office, is assessing all areas where legalized sports wagering may impact NCAA members, including officiating, NCAA rules, federal or state legislation, and the use of integrity services.

“While some have advocated that leagues or schools financially benefit from new state laws, including integrity fees levied on sports wagering revenues, the NCAA instead has decided to focus its attention on the substance of education, the protection of student-athletes and a standard approach to game integrity through consistent national guidelines,” the organization wrote.

“Legalized sports gambling across the country is rather new, but the NCAA and its members have committed significant resources over the years to policy, research and education around sports wagering,” said Joni Comstock, senior vice president of championships and alliances. “With student-athlete well-being as the centerpiece, we will continue to build upon these efforts to assist members as they adapt to legalized sports wagering in their states and regions.”

The internal team is one piece of an ongoing effort by the association. The Board of Governors suspended the NCAA’s championship policy in May related to sports wagering. The board’s decision ensured championship location continuity by allowing NCAA championship events to occur in states that offer sports wagering. The board can consider more permanent revisions of the championship host policy during future meetings.

Meanwhile, some universities are pursuing integrity fees on wagers involving their games through negotiations with state governments. Officials of Marshall and West Virginia University participated in meetings this spring with representatives from West Virginia’s state lottery, the governor’s office and the American Gaming Association, along with representatives of Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association, pursuing a 0.25 percent fee of wagers on the games of each respective league.

ESPN reports that universities including Connecticut, Missouri and Rutgers also have met with professional leagues to discuss pursuit of integrity fees.

“The fee would help us with additional resources for us to do what we need to do to deal with this whole process,” Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick told ESPN last week. (Hamrick was formerly athletic director at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.)

The West Virginia sports-betting law passed with no integrity fee.

NCAA rules prohibit sports wagering by student-athletes or member schools’ athletics employees, including coaches.

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