Sports betting is expanding across the U.S. Now, the NCAA has concerns that college athletes will begin accepting bribes en masse.
For many years, the NCAA made its position clear:
“The NCAA opposes all forms of legal and illegal sports wagering, which has the potential to undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardizes the welfare of student-athletes and the intercollegiate athletics community.”
In his statement, he also mentioned the importance of preserving integrity in NCAA sports, adding that there is an incredible temptation for collegiate athletes to fall victim to the influence of unscrupulous bookmakers or gamblers.
NCAA athletes are young, but not dumb
These athletes are people in their late teens or early twenties. They subject themselves to mental and physical rigors for barely enough money to survive.
The NCAA demands this enforced poverty with an iron fist. Players are not even allowed to accept dinners from donors or boosters.
This stance from an organization (not member schools – the organization itself) that has annual revenues above $1 billion and added $103 million to its assets in 2017. Member schools reported revenues in excess of $9 billion in the same time period.
Collegiate athletes are not a dumb group of people. They can see the money flowing around them. They understand the flow is because of their efforts.
And yet, they are threatened with blacklisting for even dipping a toe in the flood. As an example, by and large, these violations are at the heart of the ongoing bribery scandal affecting players and coaches at more than 20 Division I schools.
The potential for bribery is because of NCAA policy
So, here comes sports betting, and the wringing of hands begins. Everyone can see how a large enough wager would open the door for someone to reach out to principals in the contest.
Is it likely that something like this will happen? Probably. It has happened about once per decade, and that was with one state able to wager legally.
The NCAA created the space for moral hazard with its ridiculous and greedy policies. Athletes generate tremendous revenues. Either their individual schools or the NCAA should pay them and thank them for their services.
The leagues are worried about their necessity, not integrity
However, don’t hold your breath on any sort of change on this front. In fact, the NCAA likely feels emboldened by its partial victory against Ed O’Bannon four years ago.
The more insulting concept floating right now is the faux-outrage that most of the major sports leagues, including the NCAA, are exhibiting about sports betting. They are not concerned about the integrity of their games – the fear is actually about their necessity to the sport.
Let’s be clear – the leagues and television networks have actively promoted gambling for decades. Newspapers have listed point spreads on games for many years. The entire industry of sports pundits and commentators gives its hot takes and inside information on a daily basis.
There is no other reason to publish an injury report. The NFL has mandated the release of that information since 1946.
Nowadays, the reports come faster than ever, and usually from some reporter standing in an empty stadium. And yet, coaches and administrators are shocked – SHOCKED – at the Big Ten‘s motion to create a similar rule on the college level. Suddenly, these people are citing HIPAA concerns about students and how “scary” it all is.
Ultimately, none of that information matters at all – unless you have a vested interest in the outcome of a particular contest. Then, it might matter if the star quarterback got dinged up the Tuesday before a game.
What truly frightens all of these organizations is the loss of their control, the loss of their necessity, and the loss of an incipient opportunity to make money. In the end, that’s what bothers the NCAA about these athletes making money.
After all, if the athletes are getting paid, why would they still need the NCAA?
Last week, the NCAA issued a statement in support of federal regulation on sports betting. In the wake of the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the organization wants to make sure that its events maintain their integrity.
For the NCAA to say the word “integrity” is to taint the word irrevocably. There may be no organization on the planet more blatantly resolved to acting unfairly and shamefully.
The most obvious example of this hypocrisy is in its Byzantine and Machiavellian rule structure for athletes to earn money. This Associated Press article details numerous situations in which the NCAA has fought for its right to pay its athletes nothing more than the cost of their schooling.
Sometimes, it doesn’t even want to pay that much. Numerous players have had to drag the organization into court just to cover costs of attendance at member universities and colleges. Only through decisions in 2008 and 2015 can athletes be sure they won’t take a loss on their time at school.
This stance comes even though the NCAA reported revenues of $1.08 billion last year. Bear in mind – this is purportedly a nonprofit organization, but even after disbursals to member universities and athletic programs, the NCAA kept over $100 million of those revenues and maintained assets nearing $400 million.
Much of that revenue comes from licensing and trademarking associated with NCAA events. Those products include the use of likenesses of student-athletes.
The athletes are never paid. Ever.
The NCAA uses their names and personae in perpetuity and expects never to shell out a dime for the privilege. In fact, it fights for that very right, under the guise of ensuring the integrity of amateurism.
Amateurism is the deceit at the heart of the NCAA
This farcical notion of amateurism is the driving force behind any of the NCAA’s arguments. As long as the organization can appeal to older judges’ and policymakers’ nostalgia about athletes playing for the love of the game and the purity of their sports, it can continue to rake in billions of dollars each year.
That argument worked to grind Ed O’Bannon’s antitrust suit to a halt. It also guides the NCAA on the recent overturn of PASPA.
The NCAA wants federal regulation of sports betting. Failing that, the NCAA would want an integrity fee and data control.
Of course it does. A regulatory scheme would reinforce its control and position, and integrity fees/data control would yield practical control over the entire sports betting industry.
Truthfully, the NCAA wants the ability to declare which of its events, if any, will accept wagering. You can bet (no pun intended) that the only allowed bookmakers would have given a piece of the pie to NCAA management.
Like a despot or a Mafia capo, the NCAA always demands tribute from its subjects. It’s not going to let something like a measly Supreme Court loss stand in its way.
After all, its athletes — the ones who do the real work — are amateurs and children. The NCAA must stand strong to protect students from the evils of money and greed.
It’s noble work they’re doing.