Helling: Athletes Bear The Cost Of NCAA’s Willful Ignorance On Gambling

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Written By Derek Helling | Last Updated
On top of denying athletes an equitable share of the revenue their labor produces, healthcare that covers all costs related to injuries sustained while playing sanctioned sports and the freedom to choose any major they desire, the NCAA and its member institutions also deny athletes one more thing. That is an education about how gambling interests may affect their lives. The need for such education recently became obvious and it was an athlete at an NCAA-member institution who is worse off for it. MaCio Teague, a member of the men’s basketball team at Baylor University, paid the price for the NCAA’s continued treatment of gambling as a problem that will go away if they ignore it.

Teague’s unfortunate brush with gambling

After Teague helped the Bears get a road win over Big 12 opponent Kansas State by scoring 15 points on Feb. 3, he was surprised by some hateful comments. Teague missed a pair of free throws late in the game and the final score was 73-67. The spread on the game was Baylor -6.5. Because of that, some bettors tracked Teague down on social media, sending him over 20 hateful comments. One person even requested $11 from Teague on Venmo. As terrible as the behavior of these individuals is, what’s perhaps equally horrible is that Teague came into the situation completely unprepared. Blame for that lies on Baylor, the Big 12 and the NCAA.

Why this problem is shared by everyone involved

The lack of a concerted, serious response to the abuse of athletes on social media is deafening silence. There is an element of hypocrisy here as well. Suppose Teague had hit those free throws, Baylor had covered and instead of requesting $11 from Teague on Venmo, someone had sent him part of their winnings using that method. It’s a foregone conclusion that Baylor and the NCAA would have opened up an investigation and declared Teague ineligible as soon as they found out. Because the sacred cow of amateurism wasn’t violated, Baylor and the NCAA express regret that Teague had to endure the abuse but have taken no further action. Because of that inaction, this situation will happen again.

How everyone involved can handle this situation better

Teague isn’t alone. Other athletes have faced messages filled with hate from people who have emotional connections to the outcomes of sporting events that NCAA-member institutions take part in. For many such people, those emotions are driven by having money on the games. That’s a facet of society that is only going to continue to grow as more states legalize sports betting. Despite that, athletic departments at colleges/universities, athletic conferences and the NCAA have chosen to stick their heads further in the sand on this issue. The NCAA’s recent filing for a trademark for the phrase, “DON’T BET ON IT” is proof of this erroneous approach. Keeping sports betting illegal as a whole, or carving betting on local college sports out of a legal framework as Illinois has done, isn’t the answer either. That logic is akin to a small child who believes if he/she covers her/his face with her/his hands, people disappear. It’s also in keeping with the NCAA’s delusions, unfortunately. Bringing wagering on college sports into a regulated market affords not only consumer protection but protections for athletes as well. Teague didn’t know what a point spread was, how his actions influenced that or why anyone cares about it. Educating athletes like Teague about gambling isn’t going to automatically lead to such athletes running to a sportsbook to place bets on the games they are involved in. It could actually prevent that because providing that education enables opportunities to discuss the perils of match-fixing with athletes. Until NCAA-member institutions, athletic conferences and the NCAA join the 21st century, more athletes like Teague will face situations like this not only alone but unsure of how to respond.