The NCAA’s “head in the sand” approach to legal sports betting continues to be an issue. The COVID-19 pandemic illustrates just how serious the need for standard college football inactive list procedures is.
At least one Power 5 program has already stated it won’t share the results of its coronavirus testing with the public. That’s an issue for a few reasons, one of which is the possible ramifications on the sports betting industry.
The NCAA’s inaction on a college football inactive list
The issue of a uniform policy for all college football teams in terms of reporting when players will be inactive for upcoming games isn’t a new one. In 2018, athletic directors from the Big Ten Conference called for the NCAA to establish such a policy.
ACC Commissioner John Swofford concurred with the Big Ten’s sentiment. At the time, the major motivation behind that push was legal wagering on college sporting events.
People in college athletics feared that those close to athletic programs would use insider information to give themselves an edge at the betting window. Despite those concerns, there hasn’t been enough support for establishing uniform policies for any of the NCAA’s sanctioned sports so far.
As NCAA-member institutions who participate in football look to navigate the pandemic, the lack of uniformity in testing procedures has become apparent. That includes reporting.
Disparities in testing reporting and volume
Not all college athletic departments’ protocols for testing athletes for COVID-19 are equal at this point. For example, the University of Houston will only test athletes who exhibit symptoms like elevated temperatures and respiratory difficulties.
While most institutions have stated they will test all athletes, there have been other discrepancies between protocols from one institution to the next. The University of Missouri intends to only share the results of its testing with local health officials, for example.
So far the Boone County Missouri Health Department hasn’t indicated whether it will specify if positive tests among its inhabitants are or aren’t among the student population at Mizzou. There are HIPAA concerns but those would only apply if reports named specific athletes.
This creates the same issue as uneven injury report standards. People with knowledge of positive tests could potentially profit from that information. That might include wagering on the games.
For sports bettors, this disparity creates an issue as well. Sportsbook operators might have to adjust their approaches too.
How this could become an issue for sports bettors
It’s essentially the same issue as the disparate practices on reporting player injuries. The lack of a uniform policy on reporting player illness issues can be problematic.
Bettors could face an uneven playing field in competition with those with insider information. Additionally, programs keeping positive tests private could force bettors to err on the side of caution.
For example, suppose Mizzou sticks with this policy throughout the coming football season. If a player who has been healthy and practicing all week suddenly appears on an inactive list on a Friday, just a day before a game, that could give bettors little time to pivot.
To avoid that issue, it might be best for bettors to avoid games involving teams like Mizzou altogether. Alternatively, they could wait until Friday to place their wagers to be on the safe side.
Doing so might mean sacrificing better odds earlier in the week, however. For oddsmakers, there’s some risk in this situation as well.
Sportsbook operators might build some extra vigor into their lines on such games to mitigate their risks of being surprised later in the week. That may lead to bettors placing fewer or smaller wagers, however, which obviously means less handle.
Naturally, it isn’t the responsibility of the NCAA or any of its members to protect the profits of sportsbooks. The NCAA’s lack of action on this topic is hypocritical, however.
The NCAA shows its hypocrisy yet again
In its legal and public relations campaigns against reforms in athletes’ publicity rights, the NCAA has long maintained the same message. That message is that the NCAA is most concerned with:
- protecting athletes from people who would exploit them
- maintaining a level playing field between its members
Yet, their inaction on the issue of a standard college football inactive list flies in the face of these stances. As long as members are free to dictate their own policies on reporting athletes’ statuses, it can’t claim it has done everything it can to ensure a level playing field.
At the same time, it’s an obvious oversight in terms of protecting athletes from those who would exploit them. This is especially true in states like Missouri, where wagering on college sports is still relegated to illegal bookies and offshore websites.
A uniform policy on player illnesses and injuries would benefit everyone involved. If only the NCAA and its members were as serious about protecting athletes from unscrupulous gambling interests as they are about an athlete getting $20 for an autograph.