Ahead of his appearance at Betting on Sports America, Benjie Cherniak, Managing Director of Don Best Sports, Scientific Games’ U.S. leading managed trading service, outlines the steps required to ensure a safe environment for college sports betting.
Even in the months leading up to the repeal of PASPA in May 2018, we saw a flurry of activity from the professional sports leagues. From lobbying efforts for integrity fees, to official data rights deals, to multiple partnerships with established betting operators, each of the NBA, MLB, NHL and NFL publicly planted seeds to position themselves for the new reality thrust upon them. The one visibly notable exception? The NCAA.
Of course, while college football and basketball are part of what we in North America informally refer to as the “Big 6”, the NCAA itself is not a professional sports league. Given that universities are institutions of higher learning, it is not surprising that the NCAA’s rules of engagement deviate somewhat from their pro sport counterparts.
The challenge of course is that while the NCAA’s student athletes are not allowed to be paid and the majority will never play competitive sports after their college years come to an end, the U.S. public is just as passionate in supporting their college sports teams and athletes as they are their professional counterparts. With the first post-PASPA seasons of NCAA football and basketball now complete, the figures from the regulated states confirm that the public’s passion for college sports clearly extends to the betting space.
So what happens next? How should the NCAA navigate the tricky waters moving forward as more states regulate sports betting and legalized wagering continues to grow? Here are some suggestions:
Accept – and embrace – the new reality
Legislated sports betting is here to stay, so ducking heads in the sand is not going to accomplish a whole lot. The leaders within the NCAA and the universities need to educate themselves as to the ins and outs of the betting industry. Understand that increased betting activity is designed not to corrupt the games but rather to increase fan engagement, TV viewership, attendance, and overall interest in their sports and by extension their universities. Embrace these positives and what it can mean not just for Division One football and basketball, but for other college sports that are sure to see increased betting handle in the years ahead.
Educate the student athletes and protect them – and the universities they represent – from betting related scandals
The repeal of PASPA presents the NCAA with an opportunity to do what it should have been doing a better job of all along – protecting the integrity of its games via increased education.
Betting scandals are nothing new to big time college athletics. From the Toledo scandal to San Diego State to others, the pattern is consistent. Criminal syndicates befriend a player or group of players, take them to fancy dinners, show them a taste of the good life, and in turn work their way into the inner circle. Once part of the inner circle, they get the player to do them a one-time favor by shaving points in a given game.
None of these betting scandals should surprise us given the realities. The players in question are in many instances 18-year-old kids and many come from well below middle-class backgrounds. They aren’t being paid, yet they help generate huge dollars for their programs.
Education of the players is sure to increase in a post-PASPA environment, and well it should. The players need to understand the process by which wrongdoers will approach and befriend them. They need to understand how one bad decision can have long term repercussions, including jail time. It’s not just the players who need to be educated but coaches, trainers, officials and anyone associated with the athletic program.
This is not to say that all college conferences and universities do a poor job of educating players and stakeholders, because some have excellent programs in place. Let’s learn from those leaders and ensure consistent standards across the board for all teams and conferences.
Moreover, while education should be the focus to prevent fraudulent activity altogether, the NCAA should also establish a standardized monitoring program to detect betting irregularities. This can be done independently, in conjunction with the states, or via an established integrity monitoring partner.
Make official data available for trading purposes
With legislated wagering here to stay, the NCAA should make its official data available to the industry for betting purposes, primarily in-game wagering. The result will be sharper lines that make the NCAA events easier for the public to bet on, which increases fan engagement. Betting line consistency, resulting from official data, will also allow for improved integrity monitoring.
Granted, there is a financial aspect here, as that official data is worth a lot of money to the betting industry. The NCAA can take some of that money and use it to educate players and related stakeholders. They can also improve athletic facilities for the student athletes, create scholarships or establish programs to combat addictive gambling among its students.
In closing, these are all complex issues. The one certainty, however, is that while the college basketball championship is behind us, college football starts up again in three months and betting handle will continue to grow. This train will keep rolling down the track whether the NCAA jumps on board or not.
Benjie Cherniak, Managing Director of Don Best Sports, SG Digital, will be appearing at Betting on Sports America, the largest sports betting trade show in the U.S., from 23-25 April.