The NCAA will have to decide how much of an opponent of sports betting it wants to be in the US moving forward at some point.
For now, however, it might just have to decide how much it wants to blur the lines as Pennsylvania and potentially more states pass laws in an attempt to legalize and regulate sports wagering. The college sports organization’s stance towards New Jersey sports betting certainly seems to have painted it into a corner that could be difficult to get out of.
The NCAA and sports betting: Not BFFs
The NCAA is one of the plaintiffs in the NJ sports betting case that will be heard next month in the US Supreme Court, as the state attempts to legalize wagering within its borders.
And beyond that, the NCAA has made it clear it sees sports betting as one of the great evils of our time, even as corruption and hypocrisy abounds in college athletics. (The idea that the NCAA apparently believes the current black market for US sports betting is somehow better for integrity of collegiate athletics than a transparent and regulated market is a topic for another day.)
The NCAA has already instituted a de facto ban on top-level championship events being held in New Jersey because of its efforts on sports betting. The question is this: Does the NCAA have a bright line on this subject, and is it willing to continue this practice in other states?
Will the NCAA take similar action against PA?
Pennsylvania just passed a sports betting law that takes effect if and when the federal climate for sports betting changes. That climate is a federal ban on single-game wagering outside of Nevada sports betting via a law called PASPA.
Here’s the question: Will the NCAA try to take similar action by keeping championship events out of PA? Pittsburgh and Philadelphia commonly host NCAA events, including the men’s basketball tournament. The NCAA did not return a request for comment on the new PA sports betting law and how it might treat the state moving forward.
To be sure, the NCAA could at least parse what New Jersey is doing and what PA is doing. NJ is actively trying to change federal law and attempts to allow what amounts to “unregulated” sports betting. The new PA sports betting law only takes effect with a change in federal law (that would have to come via the NJ case or Congress).
Still, the NCAA’s stance isn’t that unregulated sports betting is bad and regulated sports betting is good. (At least that’s not what it has indicated publicly to date.) Additionally, the NCAA has already apparently made its peace with a new NJ law that regulates daily fantasy sports, including contests based on college athletes, despite its distaste for DFS.
At some point, the NCAA won’t be able to put the genie back in the bottle
When New Jersey was a one-off on sports betting (along with Nevada, of course), the NCAA’s policy of staying out of states with sports betting was at least feasible.
The NCAA even managed to force Oregon to stop its Sports Action sports betting lottery game so that NCAA events could be held in the state. And that didn’t even involve wagering on college events of any type.
With the addition of PA to the list of states trying to move forward on sports betting, the NCAA’s stance either has to be continued, clarified or rolled back.
And PA is unlikely to be the last. More states will move to attempt to legalize sports wagering in the coming years. PASPA could be struck down by the US Supreme Court as soon as the first half of 2018. What will the NCAA do then?
Will we see a pivot from the NCAA?
The major professional US sports leagues have gone from seeing sports betting as the bogeyman to accepting its presence in the past decade. They’re putting franchises in Las Vegas and talking about regulation as a good thing.
The NCAA so far has not come along for the ride. But a little over a month ago, college athletic directors sat in a room in DC and contemplated the future of sports wagering.
The organization, of course, knows that wagering on its games — either formally through a sportsbook or informally in pick’em contests and office pools — is a big of interest in its product.
Still, it’s not clear where the NCAA is heading on its treatment of sports betting. But it might need to figure that out in the very future.