If New Jersey wins its US Supreme Court case to allow legal sports betting, the major US professional sports leagues may not love the outcome, but they’re all likely prepared for that future.
It’s far less clear what the NCAA — one of the plaintiffs in the NJ sports betting case — might do.
The NCAA: Between a rock and a hard place on sports betting
Here’s what we know about the NCAA’s stance on gambling: It doesn’t like it. That goes doubly so for sports betting, which it views as a direct threat to the integrity of its games.
The NCAA uses federal law — the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act — to keep sports betting from expanding outside of Nevada. But if New Jersey beats the NCAA in court in striking down PASPA as unconstitutional, then the NCAA is in a stickier position. (PASPA gives the NCAA and the pro leagues the power to attempt to stop sports betting schemes via the courts. Without PASPA, that power would be gone.)
The pro sports leagues have at least been softening their stance on sports betting, with the NBA even advocating for a federal framework to regulate it in the US. The NCAA, though, doesn’t have an obvious exit strategy if New Jersey wins and other states start to legalize sports gambling.
The NCAA needs to get ready for that world, as SI’s Andy Staples already pondered. But they have options, some more tenable than others.
Option 1: Lobby against sports betting
New Jersey, if it wins, would likely allow wagering on college sports. It’s not clear what other states would do if they try to legalize sports wagering, but it’s fair to assume a lot of them will try to do the same.
The NCAA could just try to oppose the legalization and regulation of sports betting in any state where it comes up. It might be going it alone, on that front, at least when it comes to other pro sports leagues, who may not have enough will or desire to stop state-by-state regulation.
The states also aren’t likely to dismiss sports betting entirely just because the NCAA doesn’t like it. That leads us to another possible scenario…
Option 2: Fight for a carveout
The more likely scenario is for the NCAA to advocate if a state wants to regulate wagering, it should exclude college sports from the wagers that operators can take.
The NCAA successfully stopped daily fantasy sports based on college contests in an agreement with DraftKings and FanDuel. The two DFS sites now advocate for laws that prohibit contests based on any NCAA event (as well as any amateur event).
Still, the effort to stop betting on college sports would be a legitimate state-by-state battle, and not one the NCAA could simply nip in the bud like it did with DFS. The stakeholders are far more varied.
Betting on college sports is also big business. Billions of dollars are bet annually on college football and basketball on unregulated offshore sportsbooks. No one is likely to just give up on college sports betting without a fight.
Option 3: Be a part of the solution in creating a regulated environment
This one seems unlikely, but the NCAA could change its tune on sports betting. Instead of actively fighting it, it could try to put in place workable regulation that would help protect game integrity.
Wagering on college sports takes place in Nevada with little concern for fixing of games because of limits on bets for less high-profile matchups. The aforementioned Staples piece gets into that.
The NCAA has shown little willingness to be active on this front, however. But if it’s faced with the reality that sports betting is moving forward without its say-so, the NCAA might see this as the best option.
Option 4: Do nothing
The NCAA sitting idly by if and when sports betting starts to proliferate seems highly unlikely.
For now, the NCAA is a plaintiff in the NJ case and is hoping it wins in court. That would allow it, and the other sports leagues, to kick the can down the road on sports betting. If the NCAA loses, we’ll quickly find out how it will react.