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Assistant coaches of Division I programs were among those charged in an investigation into corruption college basketball Tuesday morning.
At the same time, a gathering of athletic directors from college programs around the country was going on in Washington, D.C. One of the topics? Sports betting.
It was perhaps the poorest possible timing for influential people in college athletics to tackle the issue of sports gambling. But still, it shows that it’s an issue that’s on the radar of some important people in college athletics.
A group called the LEAD1 Association gathered for its annual meeting this week. The group’s membership consists of the athletic directors of the Football Bowl Subdivision, including those running programs in the power conferences: the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac 12. About 100 of the 130 ADs from that group were in attendance for the gathering.
The group’s mission: “Supporting the athletic directors of America’s leading intercollegiate programs in preparing today’s students to be tomorrow’s leaders.”
Over the course of two days, ADs from the conferences above listened to and talked about issues important to them. How important was the gathering? NCAA president Mark Emmert addressed the group, as did NCAA executive vice president for regulatory affairs Oliver Luck.
One of those issues was sports gambling, featuring a panel called “The Future of Sports Betting in the US: What It Means for College Sports”:
— LEAD1 (@lead1acom) September 26, 2017
Brandt is an expert in the business of sports. Brennan runs SportAD, the company behind the daily fantasy sports/sports betting platform in New Jersey called FastPick. Slane is the senior vice president of public affairs for the American Gaming Association.
Tough room, but honest discussion re: college sports & legal sports betting. Hope ADs are proactive, work with lawmakers for future needs https://t.co/KIZrNi13W3
— Joe Brennan Jr (@joebrennanjr) September 26, 2017
On Wednesday, the AGA took part in a sports betting panel on Capitol Hill. It was a similar educational type of gathering unrelated to Tuesday’s.
The panel came at both at an opportune time for sports betting in the US.
The panel, in part, tried to educate attendees on that possibility, and the current lay of the land for the sports betting industry, which operates in the US already as a black market outside of Nevada.
The NCAA, of course, has been adamantly opposed to the legalization and regulation of sports wagering (and fantasy sports, at least for college contests, for that matter).
The New Jersey case presents a difficult path forward for the NCAA. Does it continue to oppose sports betting and lobby against it if states attempt to legalize it? Or does it attempt to embrace the benefits that come with a regulated sports betting market that don’t exist in the current black market owned by offshore sportsbooks?
The unfortunate thing about Tuesday’s panel was the news of the day. ADs were already dealing with the fallout of the aforementioned FBI probe.
The meeting wasn’t really covered by the national media given the attention other NCAA matters. But it didn’t go unnoticed, either:
I can't reiterate this enough. While Rome burned today, ADs were sitting in a meeting in DC grumbling about legalized gambling
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) September 27, 2017
Words like “fraud,” “bribery,” “corruption” and “money laundering” were the parlance of Tuesday, and the ramifications of the investigation will reverberate for years.
Those same buzzwords, of course, pop up in discussions about sports betting. (That’s even though a regulated and transparent market is helpful in attacking these issues.) They can go unchecked in the status quo of a widely available unregulated market.
The issues of sports betting and the FBI investigation aren’t directly related. But the presence of that probe could certainly hinder the evolution of the NCAA and its member school on sports wagering. Saying you want to support legalized sports wagering while dealing with what could be rampant corruption on another front presents less than optimal optics.
At the end of the day, though, at least the powers that be in the NCAA are aware of and talking about the future of sports betting, even if they aren’t quite ready for it.