Sports betting alarms NCAA

Study reveals a grim trend among student-athletes

When stories broke in February about the lurid side of college football recruiting—tales of campus visits that included strip clubs, alcohol, private planes and lobster dinners—the NCAA’s response was to form a task force to initiate reform.

“In the past the NCAA has often waited until a problem boiled over and then reacted,” NCAA president Myles Brand said.

That will not be the case with another potential campus epidemic — student-athletes betting on sports.

Brand joined colleagues in Chicago on Wednesday to discuss the findings of an NCAA-commissioned study that found significant levels of wagering among college athletes.

While nearly 35 percent of male student-athletes surveyed said they had engaged in some type of sports wagering over the past year, the more alarming numbers were these:

  • 1.1 percent of football players said they had “taken money for playing poorly in a game.”* 2.3 percent admitted they had been asked to affect the outcome of a game because of gambling debts.

“Let me be clear: I do not now see evidence that the integrity of the game has been irrevocably compromised,” Brand said. “But the risk is real. We want to be ahead of this problem.”

In all, more than 49,000 student-athletes out of about 360,000 said they bet on college sports last year. Those forms included NCAA basketball pools, parlay cards and wagers with a bookie or a friend.

“With percentages like these, there is no [school] in the NCAA that can safely claim it does not have a gambling problem on campus,” Brand said.

Although the survey was anonymous, officials warned these might be low-end figures.

“If the game is affected negatively by gambling,” outgoing Notre Dame president Rev. Edward A. Malloy said, “the sport loses integrity and then everything becomes professional wrestling with a predetermined outcome.”

Malloy will chair a 26-member task force that will examine the problem and offer solutions.

“We’re trying to get ahead of the curve and make a difference,” Malloy said. “This isn’t responding to [scandals] at Kentucky, CCNY, Boston College, Northwestern.”

NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes, coaches and athletic department employees from wagering legally or illegally on a college or professional sporting event. (Wagering on sports such as boxing, auto racing or horse racing is not against the rules.) They also cannot share information with gamblers.

Less than 60 percent of Division I athletes—and less than 40 percent in Division III—said they knew the NCAA’s rules about sports wagering, which call for penalties that could include a loss of scholarship.

“That’s alarming,” said Grant Teaff, vice-chair of the NCAA task force and the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association. “To throw away your opportunity for an education is one of the most disastrous things that can happen to a student-athlete.”

The survey also found that sports wagering on the Internet was less commonplace than expected, with just 5.3 percent of Division I male athletes partaking. It found NCAA golfers (30.3 percent) and lacrosse players (29.3) were most likely to bet.

It also found football was twice as susceptible to point-shaving as basketball and male athletes were four times more likely than female athletes to wager.

“I should say parenthetically that personally, as a religious figure, I don’t think gambling is morally abhorrent in and of itself,” Malloy said. “The question is not whether gambling is acceptable—that’s a policy question for the nation—but rather the degree of harm that some people can experience.”

Specifically, when a student-athlete goes into debt for sports wagering and then is at the mercy of a bookmaker.

“We’re not trying to change the world,” Brand said. "Many people have problems with gambling for [many] reasons. Our issue is the welfare of students.

“There will always be gambling, but we want to control the situation better. We don’t want it to go down a slippery slope where you [a student-athlete] find yourself in an environment that encourages gambling, then you participate with a dorm bookie and then before you know it, you’re enwrapped in a very unsavory situation.”

Malloy , after noting that Chicago is among the cities pushing for a new casino, added another element to the discussion.

“The other thing we haven’t talked about at all is, who are the most susceptible people?” he said. “The referees. We have no evidence, none. But theoretically if you wanted to affect the outcome of any sporting events, that’s probably the place you could do it most easily.”

Malloy, though, said the task force was unlikely to delve into that issue.

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