The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and US universities are reportedly considering changes to their policies and monitoring strategies in response to the expanding sports betting industry and the legalization of this type of gambling in over 35 states.
With more than 500,000 student-athletes under its jurisdiction, the association acknowledges the importance of evolving its approach to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape and prevalence of sports betting on college campuses.
The alleged considered changes also come amid a wave of recent scandals involving sports gambling and mounting concerns about the integrity of games. They also follow NCAA President Charlie Baker's recent remarks that sports betting presents a revenue opportunity for the NCAA, although the new head of the association said the NCAA must continue working to prevent problem gambling among college athletes.
Dan Trolaro, U.S. Vice President of Prevention with EPIC Risk Management, a gambling harm reduction company that partners with the NCAA, emphasized the impact of increased gambling opportunities in conversation with ABC15.
"When you have increased accessibility and availability, you're going to start to see people experiment," Trolaro stated. He further highlighted that college athletes are particularly susceptible to developing gambling-related problems, stating they are "up to four times" more likely to suffer these issues.
In light of this scenario, the NCAA has set gambling prevention as a major goal. But the association is also realistic that wagering is gaining space. Acknowledging the reality of student-athletes engaging in betting activities, Trolaro added: "It's not going away, it's only going to continue to grow."
Clint Hangebrauck, the NCAA's Managing Director of Enterprise Risk Management, concurred, telling ABC15: "We would have our head in the sand to not think that there's a prevalence of student-athletes out there."
The NCAA currently prohibits college athletes, coaches, and staff from betting on any major sport, irrespective of the league. The association's website states that sports wagering has the potential to undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardize the well-being of student-athletes and the intercollegiate athletics community, which is why the booming market has become a major concern for it.
Hangebrauck highlighted this stance, stating: "[They] cannot bet on any sport, at any level, in which we hold a championship." However, surveys conducted by the NCAA indicate that violations of these rules have occurred. And they will most likely keep occurring.
In a 2016 study conducted before the widespread legalization of sports betting, it was found that "24% of men reported violating NCAA bylaws within the previous year by wagering on sports for money." Hangebrauck expects that this number will be even higher a survey to be conducted next year: "I do think there's a fair amount of that activity happening again."
The question arises whether the NCAA should reconsider its stance on sports betting. While some think a tighter approach is needed, others believe that athletes and coaches should be allowed to bet on professional sports as long as they do not possess any insider information.
Hangebrauck told ABC15 the NCAA is viewing sports betting violations on a “spectrum" from just participating in sports betting, all the way to match-fixing and competitive manipulation.” The expert further said the association's main focus is on "integrity concerns" that potentially impact a game’s outcome.
But the NCAA's Managing Director of Enterprise Risk Management also indicated that the NCAA is considering a softening of its outright ban, mentioning ongoing conversations within different membership groups about potential liberalization of the rules. "Instead of having a punitive element let's have a rehabilitative element," he stated.
However, Hangebrauck also told the cited source that the potential for more nuance does not imply the NCAA and universities will turn a blind eye to violations of current rules. Monitoring and enforcement efforts involve various methods such as anonymous tip lines, geo-location tracking, and surveillance of suspicious bets.
Collaboration between multiple entities is seen by the association as essential in addressing potential violations. The NCAA, universities, private companies, sportsbooks, and state gaming commissions work together, sharing information and taking action to hold those involved accountable for their actions.
The debate surrounding the NCAA's rules on sports betting also comes as the association's new president, former Massachusetts governor Baker, calls the practice a "revenue opportunity" for the organization.
"We have a major opportunity to get into the sports betting space,” Baker said. “Anybody who has a phone can bet from anywhere they want to, and two-thirds to almost three-quarters of all people between the ages of 18 and 22 bet on sports.” Baker’s comments came at a conference at the University of Arizona titled “The Future of College Sports.”
However, Baker said that the NCAA must continue to work with state regulators, players, and schools to assure that sports betting doesn’t harm college athletes. “There are lots of kids on campuses betting on college sports and betting on the teams on their campus,” Baker said. “[We] need to create a program that we hope we’re going to get everybody to endorse around helping them develop the tools and techniques athletes need to deal with this stuff."