Who Wins As NCAA Lets Conferences Ink Sports Betting Data Deals?

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The NCAA has moved to allow college conferences to sell their official data rights, a decision that could signal softening in its opposition to legal sports betting.

The NCAA last week issued a memo from its Division I Interpretations Committee. The memo said conferences can now provide “information for sports wagering purposes.” That information also must available to the general public.

The clarification came after an interpretation request from the Mid American Conference (MAC.) The MAC recently signed a data partnership with Genius Sports that could now potentially extend to official sports betting data.

More NCAA data deals on the way?

No other conferences have yet announced similar deals. That said, the change could be a windfall for the likes of the SEC and Pac-12, who would command a hefty fee for their college football betting data.

Pro leagues like the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB all have official data deals, worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

However, the NCAA has been slow to embrace the sports betting industry, in part because of stated concerns about the integrity of the game.

Why is the NCAA changing its tune?

The recent change in heart might well be motivated by money, according to John Holden, assistant professor at Oklahoma State University.

“The NCAA has never been weaker in 100-plus years of existence,” Holden said. “Many of its member institutions are looking for ways to raise money that does not get passed on to students and can become highly public. I don’t expect the NCAA to ever come out and say “we love gambling” or for [outgoing NCAA president] Mark Emmert to be doing Caesars commercials.

“But I don’t think they are going to leave money on the table moving forward.”

Holden pointed out the NCAA should also modernize its gambling education programs for athletes.  

What’s so good about official data anyway?

The change is also good news for data providers like Genius Sports and Sportradar, who likely can charge operators more for official NCAA data.

For one, official data partners can send scouts to the game, rather than scouting off a TV feed. In turn, in-play betting odds are quicker and potentially more accurate than statistics culled from the eyes of graduate assistants and sports PR assistants currently in charge of many aspects of statistics at universities.

Providers can also use the data to build out other in-play product likes player props and same-game parlays.

Will sportsbooks pay for official NCAA data?

The largest US sportsbooks signed up to the official NFL data feed from Genius Sports last year, albeit with some grumbling about price and initial quality. But ultimately, books need good data to run quality in-play products, especially as live betting grows in the US.

 An NCAA spokesperson had no further comment on the institution’s approach to sports betting.