The relationship between college athletics and sports betting has found itself under the microscope recently. And with each headline, the media and public are zooming in.
Gambling scandals in Alabama and Iowa have set off alarm bells, and given fuel to opponents of legal sports betting.
This comes not long after the American Gaming Association and elected officials turned their attention toward partnerships between sportsbooks and universities, and sports betting advertising in general.
If you’re in the industry, it can feel a bit like it’s under siege. The response has been that the regulated gambling industry is responsible for bringing this all to light. That’s true.
But it’s probably also a good time to step back and assess how much the quick growth of legalized sports betting, and the marketing that came with it, contributed to this in the first place.
And, while it appears things started moving in this direction before these scandals hit, it’s also time for Michigan State and Caesars to make a clean, public break from their partnership. It’s not scandalous, but the current environment makes it a necessity.
What happened with Alabama and Iowa college betting scandals
In late April, sportsbook surveillance at the Great American Ballpark allegedly captured a bettor making contact with Alabama baseball coach Brad Bohannon. That bettor placed two bets on LSU beating Alabama.
The Ohio Casino Control Commission was alerted, and halted all betting on Alabama baseball games. There was also suspicious activity regarding the game in Indiana.
Bohannon has been fired as the university and authorities investigate.
On Monday, news broke that several student athletes from both Iowa and Iowa State were being investigated in regards to gambling allegations.
Not much is known publicly about those allegations, but the University of Iowa’s announcement mentioned potential criminal conduct and alluded to possible NCAA violations.
Now, that could be a lot of things when dealing with college-aged students, including underage betting or proxy betting.
The NCAA forbids any kind of gambling for its athletes, including fantasy sports leagues with an entry fee, so there’s a wide range of potential infractions.
Bottom line, we don’t know, and it would be pure speculation at this point to suggest any of it had to do with the integrity of games.
Regulated industry has been able to root out college gambling scandals
Without regulated markets in Ohio and Iowa, it’s likely these scandals wouldn’t have been caught. At least not as quickly.
That is a positive.
In a legal market, guardrails are installed that make it easier to sniff out questionable activity, or underage gambling.
I’m not going to go so far as to call it a triumph of the regulated sports betting industry, but it is something unregulated and offshore markets would not have caught.
Betting on college baseball is legal, but should it be?
That being said, we have to grapple with the reality that this happened within regulated markets.
Let me be clear, two very different incidents being revealed in a short time does not mean there is some crisis. We don’t need to shut anything down.
But maybe we do need to look at what is offered?
You’re never going to eliminate all risk, but you’re certainly inviting more when you allow betting on smaller events where the participants – and coaches – aren’t making a ton of money.
Baseball in the SEC is a big deal, sure, but there are far fewer eyes on that Alabama-LSU game than there will be when the two titans meet on the football field. Bohannon also makes a lot less than Nick Saban.
It’s great marketing for Michigan online sportsbooks to be able to tout some of the unique markets available, but the more obscure you get, the more you open yourself up to issues.
Is college baseball the line? Is it beyond it? And, not to pick on baseball, but why are we allowing bets to be placed on the Northwoods Baseball League, a summer league for college players?
I’m not suggesting any of them are rigged, or that players and coaches would put a low-stakes wager over their on-field success. But in the wake of all this, it’s probably worth taking a step back and reevaluating whether or not it’s worth it to even introduce the possibility.
Michigan State needs to publicly end Caesars deal
Regardless, colleges need to take a long, hard look at how they are addressing sports betting on their campuses.
Big-time college athletics are about making money, first and foremost. As much as the NCAA pushes the student in student athlete, it continually shows us with its actions that money is king.
So, it was no surprise that a handful of programs around the country signed partnerships with sportsbooks as the online sports betting industry boomed, even if there were some obvious concerns.
Only recently have those begun to unravel. Colorado has gotten out of its deal with PointsBet. The Maryland legislature passed a bill that essentially bans deals of their kind, which will end the University of Maryland’s own PointsBet deal.
Michigan State’s deal with Caesars is still alive. Or at least it hasn’t been declared dead. Not publicly, anyway.
Chris Vannini of the Athletic, an alum of MSU, mentioned in a recent column ($) that Caesars signage has been coming down as the school is in the process separating itself from the deal.
A petition had been filed by a professor on campus calling for its end, and, to the athletic department’s credit, it did tell PlayMichigan weeks ago that it was being looked into.
It’s also not fully in Michigan State’s hands, as the deal is through a third party marketing firm called PlayFly Sports. I reached out to PlayFly for comment Monday, but didn’t receive a response.
These recent college betting scandals don’t involve MSU at all. But they do give the school an opportunity to make a public declaration ending the deal.
Thank Caesars for being a partner, acknowledge the current climate, and commit to educating students about responsible gambling and offering support for those struggling with gambling addiction.
It’s a simple, and now timely, fix. And it’s necessary.