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You probably think we’re here to drag the NCAA from sideline to sideline for not implementing a national injury report in college football. And you’d be trite.
Criticize the NCAA for this short-sighted decision if you see fit. Its seemingly willful ignorance of sports betting’s cultural ubiquity both before and after the fall of PASPA provides ample fodder to do so.
Instead we gather today in empathy for the student-athletes the NCAA purports to protect. By failing to institute a uniform injury report across college football, the organization puts these young men at far greater risk of ensnarement with the seedy side of sports betting.
Injury information presents an opportunity for sports bettors to gain an edge, as it has for decades. As legal US sports betting creates an expanded marketplace, the NCAA appeared close to standardizing how schools report injuries during the season.
This came partially in response to a request from the schools themselves:
The Big Ten last year asked the NCAA to consider developing a national football player availability report. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith advocated a “modified version” of the weekly NFL injury report (designations of “probable,” “doubtful” or “out.”)
CBS Sports then detailed a proposed fix in May that looked much like the Big Ten suggestion:
The NCAA Gambling Working Group will propose the first-ever standardized national player availability report for college sports, two sources told CBS Sports.
Later this month, the working group will propose a pilot program that would have coaches list players as “available,” “possible” or “unavailable” for that week’s game without mentioning a specific body part or injury.
A heightened educational component for athletes and staff would also be included.
Those steps toward the reality of the present stopped short of fruition last week. The NCAA Board of Governors passed on a national injury report, using this incomplete logic to explain its choice:
“The ad hoc committee gathered thorough feedback from conference commissioners, athletics administrators, athletic trainers and student-athletes across all three divisions about potential player availability reporting,” said Ohio State President Michael Drake, who is chairman of the Board of Governors. “The membership has significant concerns about the purpose, parameters, enforcement and effectiveness of a player availability reporting model.”
Note two interesting tidbits here:
The National Football League (NFL) enacted its first injury report in the 1940s following a wild cheating scandal. Standardizing the release of information that otherwise could become a commodity shined light into a dark corner of the sports betting world, or at least created a perception to that end.
The NCAA falls short in its stated mission to protect its student-athletes by failing to do the same. Its aggregated concerns about “purpose, parameters, enforcement and effectiveness” of injury reporting land well within its control.
Everyone understands the purpose. Why else would the working group consider the idea in the first place? The NCAA can set the parameters and enforcement of injury reporting in the same way it creates similar guardrails for hundreds of other perceived threats to the integrity of its competitions.
No one can measure effectiveness without attempting a reform. Create a structure with the intent of protecting student-athletes from undue influence and adjust it if you find flaws. To punt on doing something because you cannot decide which thing is right strikes a defeatist and oblivious tone.
In an emerging US legal sports betting marketplace searching for consensus on best practices, a rare universally accepted postulate is the vulnerability of unpaid student-athletes relative to professional athletes.
If you make no money, you present as more likely to accept a bribe or payoff to share confidential injury information with an unscrupulous person seeking to profit from it. True or not, the concept resonates among diverse stakeholders.
A standardized injury report protects the student-athlete. The issues raised by the NCAA Board of Governors concern the interests of administrators and coaches. That alone should tell you what the right decision would be in this case.