Colleges Taking Integrity Fees Crash Course From Pro Sports Leagues?

Written By Juan Carlos Blanco on July 5, 2018
Integrity Fees

Since the SCOTUS handed New Jersey a win in Murphy vs. NCAA on May 14, “abundance” has been a recurring theme:

  • An abundance of celebration by stakeholders, lawmakers and sports betting enthusiasts over the verdict.
  • An abundance of hand-wringing by a variety of entities opposed to gambling for any number of reasons.
  • An abundance of rhetoric from the leagues about the need for compensation from the states for, essentially, the rights to bet on their games.
  • And unsurprisingly, an abundance of half-truths, distortions and everything in between regarding doomsday scenarios involving widespread legal gaming and the integrity of athletic events.

Especially with college sports.

Two major Pennsylvania colleges unfurl their sports betting positions

Therefore, it wasn’t exactly shocking to see both Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh take advantage of a recent public comments period to lay out their positions on the forthcoming legalized sports betting landscape in the Keystone State.

What actually was somewhat unexpected – given some of the unnecessary hysteria that’s been seen in certain circles since the SCOTUS decision — is that Penn State’s perspective, in particular, is measured and rational to an extent.

The 163-year-old institution’s president, Eric Barron, penned a letter to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) in which the college asks for a period of time to get an internal structure in place to address the new gaming paradigm in the state.

From Barron’s letter:

“We are asking for the time needed,” he wrote, “… to initiate and strengthen our policies and procedures related to sports wagering in order to educate, train and protect our students, student athletes, coaches and staff members, as well as preserving the integrity of our colleges and universities and their associated athletic programs.”

He goes on to suggest that for the time being, Pennsylvania adopt New Jersey’s model for wagering on college teams housed within its borders. Namely, prohibiting bets from within the state on any athletic event involving a state school, irrespective of where said event transpires.

Barron does go on to also raise the well-traveled argument about the unpaid status of college athletes and the spread of legalized sports betting creating “an opportunity for inappropriate influence.”

While there’s plenty of room for debate about how much that will really change in a legalized environment – considering how many billions have already been bet illegally on college sports for decades, including in March Madness pools – there’s at least some corroborating incidents to support his view, i.e.  numerous point-shaving scandals at the college level of the years.

Meanwhile, in her own letter to the PGCB, Pitt Athletic Director Heather Lyke initially comes off as even more reasonable – the school doesn’t even advocate a full ban on in-state wagers being placed on in-state college sports.

Integrity fees aren’t just a “big-league” thing

Yet you just knew there had to be a fly in the ointment.

In universities’ respective correspondences, we’re eventually treated to the big (and tired) plot twist we’ve already seen play out in a few states around the country – the two schools reveal they are likely to lobby for integrity fees to “cover the cost of enhanced educational and compliance efforts.”

In the wake of the SCOTUS decision, it’s come to light that institutions of higher learning and the pro sports leagues have one major commonality: They’re both pretty adept at trying to allocate other folks’ money. And without regard to pesky annoyances like profit margins to boot.

The two major Pennsylvania colleges thus become the latest entities with multi-billion-dollar annual budgets to try and make a case for at least partial subsidization of a mechanism that would help ensure its athletic events remain on the up and up. In doing so, they join corporations like the NBA and MLB in asking for a handout of a pie that would be down to mere crumbs by now if all of these requests were being granted.

Schools, like leagues, want states to fund their sports betting police force

The bottom line – yes, the spread of legalized sports betting could conceivably create a modest share of potentially dicey situations between bettors and student-athletes that compromise game integrity.

Yet the colleges need to hear what’s been emphasized to the pro sports leagues in states where their integrity fee requests have been rebuffed — there’s already been an endless flow of cash in play between Nevada, local bookies and offshore betting sites for many years. A substantial amount of that money has been bet on college sports.

And as is the case with the NBA, MLB and the like – if you don’t already have some sort of internal policing system in place with respect to game integrity, there’s something seriously amiss.

A request for a relatively brief grace period to get better prepared is one thing. It’s likely workable in a number of ways, too.

The attempted hold-up of the states to create what should have long been instituted — especially if the concern with the welfare of athletes is as real as the schools position it to be — is another matter altogether.

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Juan Carlos Blanco

Juan Carlos Blanco has served as a freelance writer for a wide variety of online publications and websites, with an intensive focus on fantasy sports. Juan has provided analysis and comprehensive coverage of the MLB, NBA, NFL, CFL, AAF and AFL while also reporting on news and developments in the daily fantasy sports and online gaming industries.

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