Big Ten Conference Mulls Sports Betting

College sports conferences, such as the Big Ten, are thinking deep thoughts about how they will cope with legalized sports book, once it begins to become widespread in Midwestern states. Like other sports conferences, the Big Ten is primarily concerned about the integrity of the games.

Jim Delany, Big Ten commissioner, has lately been pondering how the sports conference will meet the challenges of legalized sports betting.

With the lifting of the ban on sports betting, the Supreme Court opened a very big can of worms for the conference, and others concerned with the integrity of college sports.

Delaney would like to see protections for college sports, high school and Olympic sports. As he casts his eyes around he sees that New Jersey and Delaware immediately began offering sports book, quickly joined by Mississippi. Other states, including Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia, are holding off until the beginning of the NFL season. Another dozen states are in the midst of passing bills to legalize the practice. The Michigan House voted 68-40 to legalize it. Now it will be taken up by the Senate, but not until it reconvenes in September.

Ohio is standing pat, so far. It has introduced a so-called “placeholder” bill that contains no details. It leaves open tax rates and where sports betting might be allowed.

Universities in the Midwest are cautious about the problems associated with legalization but are preparing their students for it.

Bowling Green athletic director Bob Moosbrugger told the Toledo Blade, “We’re educating our student-athletes on gambling. Obviously, on a college campus, they’re talking to their classmates. Hypothetically, if someone could run up to Hollywood Casino and place a legal wager, bettors could have inside information that came from one of our student-athletes or even a staff member, and we certainly don’t want that to happen. Those are concerns of ours.”

Once it becomes law, regulations will follow, he said. “There’s comfort in that. Will people go out and run and abuse it? I don’t think so. But it certainly gives people the opportunity.”

All the athletic directors agree that one weapon to fight corruption is a weekly injury report, which the NFL implemented years ago. Up until now college coaches haven’t talked about injuries, but now Big Ten colleges agree such a report is inevitable.

“Yeah, I would be fine with that. Want to do an injury report? We can do an injury report,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh told the Blade. Harbaugh has a reputation for being very close-mouthed about player information.

“I’m not an alarmist, but I would be concerned,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told the Blade. “Juniors and seniors understand things, but freshmen, in particular, are susceptible to someone trying to influence them. Until they get embedded into their culture, they’re vulnerable. I’d be concerned, but not panicked.”

The Mid-American Conference is having similar discussions. Federal HIPPA and FERPA restrictions make it likely that individual player injuries would not be listed, only player availability.

What all fear is point shaving. In Ohio this was a real scandal. Seven members of the University of Toledo Rockets took bribes to influence scores in basketball and football in 2005-2006. Other universities that have experienced this problem in the last 30 years include the University of San Diego, Arizona State, Northwestern and Auburn.

Tom McMillen, president and chief executive officer of LEAD1 Association, which represents Football Bowl Subdivision athletic directors, told the Blade: “[Legalized sports betting] will have a dramatic effect on schools.” He added, “A lot of the gambling interests like to say, ‘Don’t worry about it. Regulating it, taxing it, and bringing it above board will mean there’s less scandal.’” But he’s not buying any of that. “[I]f you look at tennis around the world, there’s an enormous amount of match-fixing, especially lower-level matches. You’re not immune to scandal just because you legalize it. What I will say with certainty is there will be point-shaving scandals.”

McMillen is a former congressman who enthusiastically voted for PASPA in 1992. He wrote the book “Out of Bounds: How the American Sport Establishment Is Being Driven by Greed and Hypocrisy — And What Needs to Be Done About It.”

He thinks the issue of corruption of college sports is a unique American problem because other nations don’t have big-time college sports.

Not everyone agrees with the negative assessments of sports betting.

Todd Fuhrman, host of the Bet the Board podcast, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette “It’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, but look at marijuana and what legalization has done.” He said, “It hasn’t created more drug dealers. It’s probably put more of them out of business. You can follow the flow of money, and it’s a safer and cleaner environment.”

Bowing to what is probably inevitable, the NBA, MLB, and PGA Tour have all requested 1 percent “integrity fees” to help them ensure the games’ honesty. Only the NCAA has said it won’t seek the fee.

One solution in West Virginia might possibly be exported elsewhere. West Virginia University and Marshall University have agreed to collect 0.25 percent of each bet wagered on their school teams. The money will be used for compliance and to educate athletes about the evils of sports betting corruption.

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