They say it’s only cheating if you get caught.
But the recent allegations against several University of Iowa and Iowa State University student-athletes for committing sports betting violations have uncovered a possibly uncomfortable truth about how many players are engaging in these behaviors.
We couldn’t be so naive as to believe the list would stop at seven when initial charges came from an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation probe into illegal sports betting. Last week, DCI filed charges against another seven players, four from Iowa State and three from Iowa, for concealing their identities in Iowa sports betting activities.
Similarly, the NCAA and the sports betting industry can’t believe Iowa’s student-athletes are the only ones engaging in these behaviors in the country. Do officials understand the size and scope of this growing problem, and what can they do to extinguish it?
NCAA opposes all aspects of sports betting
The Iowa sports betting market is served by nearly 20 operators. Iowa online sports betting far outweighs betting at retail sportsbooks, with around nine out of every 10 bets made online in The Hawkeye State.
Gambling is not inherently bad. It can add some entertainment and excitement to people’s lives when done responsibly and within the rules. Conversely, it can have a negative impact when gamblers cross either of those lines.
National and state councils have maintained a neutral stance as the industry has grown exponentially over the last three years, opting to promote a safe, regulated environment for players to gamble responsibly.
NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes from engaging in sports betting activities, including placing bets and providing inside information to others. Unlike other entities, the NCAA opposes all sports betting, listing three main reasons.
- Undermines the integrity of sports contests
- Jeopardizes the well-being of student-athletes and the intercollegiate athletics community
- Demeans the competition and competitors alike that is contrary to the purpose and meaning of “sport”
The message is clear: Competition must remain separate from the money wagered on it.
Learning lessons across the board
Every side has something to learn as this story continues to unfold. Legal sports betting is still in its relative infancy nationwide, and these situations will shape what its future looks like in college sports. Some of the athletes being investigated have already decided to leave the programs. Isaiah Lee, a defensive lineman for Iowa State, left the program on Monday according to the Des Moines Register.
“I think our world’s changed dramatically. Anybody who does pay attention to gambling knows that better than I, certainly the last couple of years. We live in a real different world right now.”
Athletes and families
Sports betting has permeated into mainstream culture, and we can assume many athletes circumventing these rules are doing so without understanding the repercussions. The NCAA and its schools have not put out as much effort to deter gambling as sportsbooks have to attract it.
The probe and its results will show student-athletes and their families how serious the consequences can be for betting on sports.
The NCAA must realize its softer approach is incongruent with its black-and-white opposition to sports betting. It’s also not going to disincentivize student-athletes from placing small bets.
Colleges and universities
At this point, colleges and universities in legal sports betting states have to assume some of their athletes are betting on sports, just like in Iowa.
No school wants to become the next scandal. With their reputations at stake, schools will want to take an active approach toward uncovering and resolving any issues before they blow up. Proactive and cooperative programs will fare the best. Education is paramount in this situation.
According to a report from The Associated Press in May, the NCAA began a five-year contract with the UK’s EPIC Risk Management last year to provide what was described as a “customized sports wagering gambling harm prevention program.” The NCAA said more than 10,000 athletes and administrators attended in-person programming last year.
In July, Colorado State University held a gambling prevention education class with the help of EPIC risk management and the Problem Gambling Coalition of Colorado.
The @CSURams are ✨gambling prevention✨ educated!
Thank you to @epicpgc & Problem Gambling Coalition of Colorado for educating 3️⃣0️⃣0️⃣ student-athletes, coaches, & staff on signs, effects, the importance of gambling prevention in college athletics, and more!#Stalwart 🐏 pic.twitter.com/IptDeYCOoh
— CSU RAM Life (@CSURAMlife) July 27, 2023
Hopefully, more universities will take note from CSU.
The state of Iowa
The state of Iowa has learned the hard way that it has an undeniable problem at its two major universities. It is now the example for the rest of the country, and everyone is watching to see its next actions.
How will it respond, if at all? Hint: More education, from top to bottom.
As a multi-billion-dollar industry, sportsbooks run on state-of-the-art technology under strict regulatory enforcement to provide a safe and secure place to bet.
Preventing underage and illegal gambling is an ongoing process, but they’ve learned about new areas requiring additional investigation.
Sportsbooks are not alone, however. They can coordinate with states and schools to enforce greater scrutiny in these areas.
What solutions exist?
Unfortunately, no perfect solution exists to prevent all student-athletes from betting on sports. But that doesn’t excuse any party from doing whatever it can to minimize the problem.
Nothing changes if nothing changes, right?
Iowa legislators need to impose harsher fines on their schools, incentivizing them to play a more significant role in their students’ activities. They can also tighten advertising standards and run campaigns targeting families, teaching parents the gravity of facilitating underage and illegal gambling.
Further prohibition-style actions like banning in-state college betting or geofencing campuses might sound good in theory but will drive bettors to illegal offshore sportsbooks. Thus, its best efforts should go to creating a culture that promotes responsible gambling in Iowa, something sportsbook operators can easily join in on.
The NCAA must rethink its punishments and take a firmer stance against student-athletes and sports betting. It can also work with schools to create intensive sports betting education courses.
Schools can increase the quality of these courses and make them compulsory for their student-athletes every year. They can award credits and, again, create a culture centered around responsibility.
Sports inherently teach responsibility and accountability. Ultimately, each student-athlete must choose to make the right decision. That decision becomes much easier when they’re led down the right path long before adulthood.