NCAA, leagues start bracing for a loss in Christie vs. NCAA
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What Will The NCAA Do If It Loses Sports Betting Case? Talk Of ‘Carve-Out’ For College Games Is Our First Hint

NCAA sports betting carveout
The NCAA went to the US Supreme Court on Monday and argued for keeping the federal sports betting ban intact. That didn’t go so well, by all accounts.

That leads to the inevitable question of what happens if the NCAA and the other pro sports leagues involved in Christie vs. NCAA — the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB — will do if they lose.

We got the first sense of what that reaction might be from the collegiate athletic group this week, which apparently would be seeking to stop wagering on college games if sports wagering starts becoming more widely legal.

What the NCAA’s head said on sports betting

The NCAA has been adamantly against legal and regulated sports betting, citing it as a threat to game integrity. That’s despite the fact that there’s already an established black market for sports betting via illegal offshore sportsbooks, where tens of billions of dollars are wagered. And betting on college games is big business.

Still, the NCAA appears to want to stop its inclusion in a regulated US market, despite evidence that sports betting is both good for its underlying business and integrity.

Here’s USA Today:

NCAA President Mark Emmert made an appearance here Wednesday and suggested the possibility of a “carve out” if PAPSA is struck down, essentially lobbying states to exclude college sports if gambling becomes legal nationwide.

The NCAA sports betting carveout will be a tough get

The NCAA getting its way with carve-outs in sports betting laws will be both 1. counter-productive and 2. difficult to procure.

An NCAA-only sports betting carve-out is counter-productive

The USA Today column above from Dan Wolken goes into the myriad reasons why seeking such a carve-out is a poor idea.

Betting on NCAA games — at least for basketball and football — drives interest in games, so seeking to limit it would not be great for the NCAA’s business.

And an NCAA carve-out on sports betting would leave all wagering on its games on offshore sites. A regulated sports gambling market would in fact be better for game integrity than the status quo of a black market the NCAA and others have little insight into.

So, the NCAA can lobby all it wants for an exclusion when it comes to sports betting. But that would be a poor decision, both from the perspective of its bottom line and game integrity matters.

NCAA-only sports betting carve-outs are difficult to procure

How successful would the NCAA be in trying to getting such a carve-out?

A federal carveout?

The NBA has made it clear it wants federal regulation of sports betting via Congress, although that scenario seems unlikely.

But let’s assume that possibility is a real one. If the NBA and/or proponents of sports betting bend to the will of the NCAA, it would seem to reinforce its faulty assumption that regulated markets are more dangerous for game integrity. That’s obviously counter-intuitive for people wanting to argue the opposite.

Regardless, legalization of sports betting is far more likely to come at the state level. What would that take?

State-level carveouts?

If the federal ban is struck down by SCOTUS, that leaves a world where states can legalize sports wagering.

Is the NCAA willing to go to dozens of state capitols and lobby for its preferred carve-out? That’s a giant and expensive task, and one that may not bear fruit.

The NCAA successfully got carve-outs when it came to the many daily fantasy sports laws that have gone on the books in the past two years. Most of those laws ban DFS contests based on college athletes.

However, that wasn’t the result of a state-by-state lobbying effort. That was the result of an NCAA truce with DraftKings and FanDuel, who were willing to drop college contests in exchange for the NCAA keeping its nose out of DFS. The DFS laws on the books are almost entirely the work of the two largest DFS companies.

College DFS, at the time, was an extremely niche product in the wider DFS landscape, although this kowtowing to the NCAA might seem short-sighted, in retrospect.

Sports betting does not = DFS

The NCAA, in lobbying for state-level carve-outs, is going to find far more resistance than it did with DFS:

  • There’s a lot of money in betting on NCAA games. The New York Times recently reported that wagering on college football games outpaces NFL wagering in Nevada, the only state where single-game sports betting is legal. Also visit a sportsbook in Las Vegas during college basketball’s March Madness to see what kind of interest there is college basketball betting.
  • The people lobbying for and advancing sports betting bills are not homogenous like the NCAA encountered in DFS. Sometimes state lawmakers will want sports betting for more revenue. Gaming interests will be advancing sports betting and aren’t going to just roll over for the NCAA. To wit, here is the American Gaming Association reacting to the NCAA’s carveout plan:

The NCAA should stop fighting sports betting

The NCAA is not going to win this fight. And they should also be on the side they are fighting against.

Regulated sports betting would drive interest in the NCAA and give the organization more insight into the game integrity matters it says are so important to it.

Instead of expending effort to put a genie back into its bottle, the NCAA should embrace legal and regulated wagering.

But is it smart enough to make that pivot?

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Dustin Gouker
- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner.