In a recent interview, Gov. Jim Justice said he plans to meet with stakeholders, including sports leagues, in the capital this week, regarding a recently enacted law.
The NBA and Major League Baseball will no doubt be part of the conversation. Those two professional leagues have been lobbying in WV for months, continuing to do so even after lawmakers cast their proposals aside. They’ve struggled to find any support outside the governor’s office, in fact, and it sounds like they’re reinforcing their alliance.
“I think even the PGA is coming in,” Justice said, “and maybe even the NCAA also is coming in.”
Meanwhile, Justice is trying to convince lawmakers about the need for a special session, hoping they’ll revisit the law they just passed in March. He’s urged the legislature to “look at the advantages of partnering with the major sports leagues.”
The NCAA is, of course, a litigant in the Supreme Court sports betting case (along with the four major US pro sports leagues) involving New Jersey. West Virginia would need a victory for NJ in that case in order to offer sports gambling in the short term.
NCAA hates sports betting, right?
The PGA Tour recently joined the NBA/MLB coalition, so that inclusion isn’t a surprise. Seeing the NCAA mentioned, however, is pretty intriguing.
The NCAA has been the polar opposite of the above leagues when it comes to sports gambling. It doesn’t even approve of daily fantasy sports, let alone actual wagering. NCAA athletes are prohibited from doing either, and there is a zero-tolerance policy for infractions.
The professional leagues now embrace DFS, and they’ve softened on sports betting in recent years, too. The NBA and MLB, for instance, are pushing for state-based legalization under certain conditions. Those conditions include control of data and the collection of an integrity fee from operators, among other things.
So far at least, the NCAA has not joined the bandwagon. Its current stance is summed up on its website, where a page entitled “Sports Betting” contains only this text:
The NCAA opposes all forms of legal and illegal sports wagering, which has the potential to undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardizes the welfare of student-athletes and the intercollegiate athletics community.
Even legal forms of wagering? The federal government has determined that fantasy sports are neither “illegal” nor gambling, but the NCAA remains firmly opposed to DFS. It’d be hard to imagine that position changing toward sports betting, even if it becomes widely legal.
Why is NCAA coming to WV?
Given the above, we can pretty much rule out the NCAA showing up to support the legalization of WV sports betting. It’s certainly possible, but it’s quite a stretch to imagine at this point. So why is anyone from the world of college sports attending? And who?
One possible explanation involves the influence of that NBA/MLB alliance. Again, the two leagues have had trouble gaining traction in the WV statehouse, facing pushback that has been aggressive at times. Some of the problem, no doubt, is the fact that neither they nor the other professional sports leagues have any physical presence in the state. (There are minor league baseball teams in WV.)
The state does have college athletics, though. Marshall University and West Virginia University represent the top tier for sports inside WV borders. They’re both classified as Division I for athletics, and they’re flanked by more than a dozen D-II schools, too. Those schools — and the NCAA by extension — carry a fair amount of weight with lawmakers.
It’s not hard to imagine league lobbyists calling those schools and saying something like, “Hey, why don’t you come to Charleston and tell everyone how scary sports betting is?”
If members of NCAA schools can help drum up some additional integrity concerns, they may be able to help the leagues’ cause without taking a stance for legalization.
It can’t hurt, at least; lawmakers have given the pro leagues the stiff-arm so far.
Will NCAA change anything?
We ask this question every time we write about this special session, and the answer is always the same. The law likely isn’t going anywhere, and it would be shocking to see a change that diverts money or control to sports leagues.
Most of this sentiment can be traced to comments from WV lawmakers and regulators. While the governor can call a special session, he can’t force anyone to change the law. And they seem to have no interest in doing so. Decisionmakers have stopped just short of mocking the idea, including in public forums like Twitter.
As Del. Fluharty writes, the issue was already hashed out at length. State officials studied sports betting as carefully as any group, and the law they passed was subsequently lauded as a model in other statehouses (albeit not by the leagues).
League lawyers testified on several occasions during the legislative process, even debuting their model legislation to WV lawmakers. Those lawmakers then chose to omit the leagues’ demands from the law. Both chambers passed the bill with veto-proof margins, too.
Regardless of the futility, the leagues seem to fortifying their positions once again. They’re preparing for a second round that’s unlikely to happen, though.