By RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Sports Writer
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The NCAA’s stance against sports betting by its athletes and those working in collegiate athletics can be summed up simply by the slogan on the posters the association provides to its member schools: “Bet not on it.”
The rules have been clear for decades and are part of the basic instruction for half a million amateur athletes. But with sports betting now legal in more than half the states and millions pouring into once-timid professional sports leagues, college conferences are also beginning to explore ways to make money.
The Mid-American Conference was the first to jump in, selling rights to its data and statistics to a company called Genius Sports, which in turn will sell them to sportsbooks.
Expect others to follow, but the extra revenue will come with increased responsibility. And at a time of profound change in collegiate sports, when athletes are now able to monetize their fame and the viability and necessity of the NCAA in question, legalized and accessible gambling represents a newer terrain in which to expand navigate applies.
While the NCAA does not stand in the way of such deals, actual sports betting remains a violation for those involved in collegiate sports.
“You could turn the other way before and say, ‘Oh, this is all happening.’ But once you get paid directly by sportsbook, that also brings with it some responsibility,” said Matthew Holt of US Integrity, a company that works with professional sports leagues and college conferences to monitor gambling irregularities.
Holt said college sports is uniquely ripe for potential scandal due to a lack of transparency around player availability, the explosion in endorsement deals for booster athletes, and the potential for unpaid players to essentially bet on themselves with ease.
Holt said regulated sports betting in the United States is on track to make $125 billion this year.
The NCAA men’s basketball tournament generated $20 million in wagers this year, Holt said, and there’s more money wagered on an average college football Saturday than on a typical NFL Sunday.
While all major professional sports leagues have financial deals with online sports betting, college conferences are slow to come into play. MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said it was impossible to ignore the changing reality.
“What we’ve actually done is take sports betting out of the dark corners and bring sunshine and more transparency to it. And more eyes on it. That’s positive, that’s not negative,” he said.
In the coming season, these weekday MAC soccer games could be more enticing than ever for players with the help of Genius.
The London-based company also provides a layer of protection to its partners, including the NFL, through data analytics and sportsbook relationships, said Sean Conroy, Genius Sports vice president for North America.
At conference sessions held in Arizona earlier this month, Holt warned the athletic directors and league executives of the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 about the differences between collegiate and professional sports that make the college more vulnerable to corruption.
First, college conferences do not require teams and coaches to disclose injury status and player availability for games. The NFL, on the other hand, publishes an injury report three times a week.
Holt said by hiding injury information, a college coach unknowingly makes those who know — from coaching staff to team managers to players –– targets to be bribed for a wagering advantage.
“So I think that if higher education is going to open up this category for revenue and monetization, they have to take responsibility for taking a step forward in terms of injury information and availability reporting,” Holt said.
Second, since collegiate athletes are now allowed to earn money on endorsement deals, Holt said there should be restrictions on individuals betting on athletes who also pay them.
“Let’s say you have Tommy’s used car business that gives the university quarterback $100,000 a year and a NIL (deal),” Holt said. “Well, the owner of Tommy’s used car store shouldn’t be able to bet on that university. It’s a conflict of interest. He has a direct impact on the player.”
Holt said the professional leagues are doing a good job of identifying “influential people” and imposing restrictions on them when it comes to sports betting.
Third, and perhaps most problematic, is the ease with which athletes can bet on themselves. Many online sportsbooks allow users to place prop bets and bet on individual performances in a particular game. Can a quarterback throw at least three touchdown passes? Will the point guard hit six assists?
Rather than being paid to affect the bottom line of a game, as was the case with spot shaving scandals at schools like Boston College, Toledo and San Diego, athletes can simply manipulate their own stats.
Even with the rise of NIL opportunities for collegiate athletes, the vast majority are making modest sums – if any – of any money.
“And it’s easier for fixsters to approach these players because they don’t have to ask the player to fix a match,” Holt said. “‘Hey, we not only hope your team wins, we hope you play great. Just don’t get nine rebounds.’”
Holt said with US Integrity’s endorsement that three states have made single-player prop betting illegal on college sporting events.
“The other 30 were like, ‘Thanks for the wonderful information, Matt, but DraftKings, FanDuel and Caesars, which have big lobbyists, wanted it and they wanted to win,'” Holt said.
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