Opinion: What NCAA Changes Could Mean For Sports Betting

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While many people are busy with holiday prepping and planning for the new year, the NCAA has had a fairly significant month.

It began last Thursday with the announcement that Massachusetts Gov. Chalie Baker would become the organization’s next president, replacing the outgoing president Mark Emmert in March. But before the day was done, the NCAA had another potential headache as they are still hanging onto maintaining that athletes not be paid.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Los Angeles regional office found merit in a complaint filed on behalf of football and basketball players from the University of Southern California arguing that the players are employees, not an exempt category of worker. While significant, this does not change the status of those athletes in and of itself, but it does set up a hearing before an administrative law judge who will make a ruling on the complaint.

There is also another lawsuit challenging the status of college athletes at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, all of these changes could mean big changes at the NCAA, but they also could mean changes to college sports’ relationship with the sports betting industry.

Welcome, Charlie Baker?

Baker, the two-term Republican Massachusetts Governor, was selected as the next president of the NCAA, taking over for Emmert, who had been responsible for heading up the NCAA since 2010 and has seen the organization undergo immense change during his time.

While Emmert’s time has been marked by significant changes, perhaps none more groundbreaking than the court-aided acquiescence of college athletes being able to monetize their own images. Emmert leaves a complicated legacy, and it is unlikely that many think the NCAA has much of the strength it once wielded.

Baker’s name came as a bit of a surprise, as he is not coming from a direct connection to college sports. While there had been speculation that the NCAA might look to a politician or former politician to take over, much of the speculation seemed to have former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice or former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as potential names.

But Baker represents a name that may be the NCAA’s attempt to bridge divides in Congress. Baker has a lot of appeal to both major political parties and could perhaps bring the NCAA some legislative victories that proved elusive for Emmert.

Sports betting impact of Baker on NCAA?

It is not immediately clear what impact Baker will have on sports betting. He was Governor while Massachusetts crossed the goal line to allow online MA sports betting.

Still, at the college level, there has been some backlash to the connection between schools and gambling companies following the New York Times four-part series, which looked in par, at gambling company partnerships with a handful of schools.

Senator Richard Blumenthal sent a letter to Caesars urging them to:

“end its practice of targeting colleges and universities, discontinue any existing partnerships with schools, and abide by industry standards that prohibit marketing to college students.”

Does NCAA have data on that?

While there has been backlash to college partnerships with gambling companies, the NCAA also began allowing for the sale of data to gambling companies.

It is not immediately clear how Baker will handle gambling issues. Gambling companies represent a potential cash-rich sponsorship partner but also bring attention that may not be desirable, as Blumenthal’s letter indicates.

Baker may be forced to make some proverbial trades, as there is speculation he will be asking Congress for help in clearing up some of the NIL issues emerging in college sports. Gambling partnerships might be something that Congress wants to put an end to (while there could be First Amendment issues there; we will save that for another day) if it results in something that the organization sees as a bigger “win.”

Ultimately, it is difficult to predict what impact Baker’s appointment as president will have on sports gambling as it is likely not amongst the top issues facing the NCAA. Nonetheless, it is an area to watch as partnerships, particularly, face skepticism following the New York Times story.

Bigger impact on sports betting?

A more significant impact on the betting industry than the organization getting a new leader might come from football and basketball athletes being recognized as employees and potentially forming a collective bargaining unit.

While we are still likely close to a year from a decision in the University of Southern California case challenging the status of certain college athletes on campus, the potential for unionization could revolutionize the relationship between college sports and the betting industry. If athletes were to unionize, the colleges and universities would need to collectively bargain with athletes.

Like in professional sports, the athletes would likely be seeking a share of sport-related revenue and partnerships with the gambling industry would represent a significant potential stream that could potentially be sport-related revenue. While perhaps less impactful than getting a piece of broadcast revenue, gambling-related partnerships could be a valuable piece of the compensation-related pie for college athletes.

At this point, it is impossible to know what will happen with the changes in college sports. While the gambling industry is not likely to be front and center as the organization undergoes meaningful changes moving forward, it is an ancillary aspect that will likely see some impact of changes.