Opinion: How Worried Should We Be About NCAA College Betting Scandals?

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The story of suspicious bets placed in Ohio on a University of Alabama baseball game appears as though it may be the tip of an iceberg, and will likely linger over college sports and the sports betting worlds for some time.

ESPN first reported the story on May 1. Ohio gaming regulators instructed operators in the state to stop taking bets on Alabama baseball games until further notice.

Here we are nearly two months later and we are still piecing together details about more than a single incident.

There seems to be a lot of smoke

While we arguably do not seem to have a full-blown fire yet, there does appear to be a likelihood more stories like these will emerge.

The first thing to note is that it does appear the regulated market worked like it has for decades. An unexpected amount of money came in, or some suspicious action occurred. The proper authorities were alerted and investigations were launched. The situation in Iowa appears yet again another example of the regulated market doing what it should: information came into a regulator and a process of investigating began.

It does, however, continue to highlight the disconnect that is happening. The message continues to not get through.

Dollars and lack of sense

Big money does not seem to be the motivating factor here in either college example. Certainly, in the NFL, the cost-benefit analysis of those who have received year-long suspensions things have not convinced players to take the safe path. Alabama coach Brad Bohannon had a base salary of $275,000 with a talent fee that escalate each year by $25,000 starting at $200,000, in 2023 he was slated to make just short of $500,000.

It seems inconceivable that someone would be able to bet much beyond a few hundred dollars at most on a regular-season college baseball game happening four states away. While we do not know what exactly took place or whether there was information passed, from an economic perspective, it is tough to figure out why someone would risk it.

Improving lessons on college betting

The current education system keeps failing. There have been numerous references to once-a-year training in the NFL regarding gambling policies, but that process is clearly not enough. At the college level, it is likely that there is a wide variance between programs as to who is getting what education, when, and what it contains.

Perhaps they should take advice from NBA counsel Dan Spillane, who at the Sports Lawyers Association Conference recently emphasized the need to continually drill into athlete’s and personnel’s heads what is not permitted. Once a year training does not cut it. ‘Scared straight’ does not cut it. There needs to be repetition, over and over.

What happened with Alabama baseball betting?

In late April, two bets were placed on games involving the University of Alabama baseball team, which was slated to play the top-ranked LSU Tigers. The bets were reportedly a moneyline bet and a parlay that included the Alabama game. These wagers tipped monitoring service US Integrity, which issued an alert of the suspicious activity.

Multiple jurisdictions took Alabama baseball games off the board, and the SEC Commissioner issuing a statement, which said little about possible details, further adding to the mystery of what happened. Bohannon subsequently was fired.

The Alabama incident was followed by dozens of Iowa-based athletes being implicated in prohibited activity involving an unusual amount of logins from certain locations. There are no questions relating to game integrity in Iowa, according to the information we have so far. We have also seen two University of Cincinnati baseball staffers lose their jobs in connection to this incident, and the team’s head coach stepped down.

What else we know from college betting situation

Any integrity threat is going to be bad for the industry, but the question of just how concerned we should be is something of an open question.

There is a lot that we still do not know. The information out of Alabama we do have is that leading up to the game on April 28, the University of Alabama had announced on social media that one player was slated to be the starting pitcher at LSU’s Alex Box Stadium.

The player who was slated to start is arguably one of their best starters. Shortly before the start of the game, the player who had been announced as the starter on social media was scratched for a second pitcher. This was again one of Alabama’s better pitchers, though one who had only started one game before the Friday night and had been roughed up a bit in two of his previous three appearances.

Who knew what and when for Alabama?

Shortly after the scheduled start of the game, NOLA.com reporter Leah Vann reported that the original starting pitcher was scratched for back tightness.

In the following days, regulators around the country began taking Alabama baseball games off the board until further notice.

On Thursday, May 4, Alabama issued a statement that it fired coach Brad Bohannon. The statement read that the school:

Has initiated the termination process for head baseball coach Brad Bohannon for, among other things, violating the standards, duties, and responsibilities expected of University employees.

Who did Bohannon talk to?

ESPN reported the firing with information that the bettor who placed the suspicious bets was communicating with Bohannon as the bets were being placed. We now have heard the bettor had a connection to the University of Cincinnati via his son who is on the baseball team (and does not appear in any way implicated to anything impermissible.)

Up in Iowa, the details are still scant. After news of some type of issue arising under the auspices of Iowa gaming regulator control broke, reports came up about dozens of athletes at Iowa and Iowa State being investigated.

What to make of this college betting scandal?

We are now five years into widespread legal betting, the market is maturing, and the bad things are going to start rising to the surface, some of which are already happening.

It may sound like a broken record, but the industry needs to get ahead of these issues. Take some of the promo spend and put into problem gambling resources and education for vulnerable or at-risk populations.

Do something. If there is a match-fixing scandal, which this does not appear to be, this whole thing that has been built could blow up.