Sports betting is quickly weaving its way into the fabric of US society. And with it comes an urgency to protect the integrity of sporting contests to ensure they remain fair and competitive.
One way to accomplish that is to educate young people about responsible gambling. Student-athletes especially are under intense pressure to avoid the many pitfalls surrounding sports betting, as are college staff and coaches.
Without educational initiatives in place, it’s easy to step over the line and either lose eligibility or a career. That may have happened in Iowa already, as the NCAA is currently investigating several student-athletes and staff over suspected gambling activity.
Now is the time for the NCAA to be proactive by requiring schools to provide sports betting education to everyone involved in their sports programs.
Iowa student-athletes under investigation for suspected gambling
Iowa online sports betting has been popular since it began in 2019. Iowa was one of the first states to offer it after the Supreme Court’s decision allowing states to regulate sports betting. Other than requiring bettors to be at least 21, there are no restrictions on betting, other than you can’t place bets on high school games. Iowa college games are fair game.
There are 26 student-athletes involved in the probe by the NCAA into possible gambling violations. The investigation includes two Iowa colleges, Iowa State University and the University of Iowa. The athletes, not named so far, play in various sports, including baseball, football, track and field, basketball, and wrestling. One University of Iowa staffer is being investigated as well.
Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell told CycloneFanatic that this is a learning opportunity.
“They made a minor mistake. Again, it’s a choice, and we all are defined by choices that we make. My only ask of our young men is let’s be completely transparent about what happened. Whatever choice or decision you made, we’ll learn from it and grow from it together.”
NCAA updates its rules mid-investigation, making them less severe
The NCAA updated its rules and suggested punishments for gambling violations reported May 2 or beyond, which would include the probe into the Iowa college student-athletes. The updated punishments correspond to the amount of money wagered by violators of NCAA rules.
- Up to $500: Suspension up to 10% of season, plus required attendance at a sports wagering rules and prevention class
- $501 to $800: Suspension up to 20% of season plus educational classes
- More than $800: 30% season suspension and classes
These rules are significantly less severe than the NCAA’s previous structure, which suggested a full-season suspension for bets of $500 or more.
Current rules still carry commensurately harsh punishments for athletes who bet on their own games or provide information that could sway betting. Confirmed activity could result in a permanent ban from play.
How sports betting education could be a win-win-win
The punishments described above include educational courses. The classes are required as consequences for violating NCAA rules against gambling. While they could prevent future issues by those taking the classes, they’re reactive, not proactive.
Instead, the NCAA should make sports betting education a requirement for any and all student-athletes before violations occur. They should be mandatory in order to retain eligibility. The benefits are plentiful.
First, universities could offer credit hours for such a class, giving student-athletes a notch toward their degree. Second, the classes are proactive, possibly staving off gambling issues before they happen, rather than punishing students after the fact.
Coaches and staff involved with sports programs could also attend, showing a commitment to the cause at all levels. It would provide an opportunity for team unity.
They would be a win-win-win situation. The NCAA benefits by not having its image tainted by scandal. Colleges and universities benefit from not having their sports programs and coaches scrutinized. And student-athletes win by understanding what they can and can’t do when it comes to sports betting.
The classes should contain instructions on responsible gambling and should be open to all students. Colleges have a responsibility to provide the necessary tools to help their students make informed decisions. And that includes wagering on sports.
NCAA needs clear-cut gambling rules and consequences
Sports betting is expanding and growing with immense speed. Historically, governing organizations of any type are notoriously slow to adapt. The NCAA may have changed its gambling rules, but it reeks of slow-moving bureaucracy.
The body must provide a clear set of rules with specific punishments in place. The recent change is a step in the right direction, but the rules are still vague. And using how much was bet as tiers seems to punish those with the most money to wager.
Sportsbooks have a role to play
Sportsbooks have a responsibility to work with colleges and universities to protect student-athletes from themselves. Together, they should develop prevention programs.
To be fair, some sportsbooks already have safeguards in place. According to The Gazette, former Iowa basketball player Jordan Bohannon was barred from DraftKings because he was labeled a “professional athlete.”
Considering the strict requirements sportsbooks give to new users, identifying student-athletes should be within reach. Doing so without infringing on privacy could be difficult, but there are ways to flag bettors without infringing on their rights.
This is where a partnership between the NCAA and sportsbook operators would be particularly beneficial. They could work toward a solution that works for everyone. In particular, sportsbooks could lend their expertise to sports betting education classes.
How fans and analysts can help
It’s easy to look at gambling allegations and shake your head. Whether you’re a sports fan, gambler, analyst, or journalist, it’s important to remember that student-athletes are students first. They are typically 18 to 22 years old and are completely capable of making mistakes.
Instead of vilifying young adult gambling violators, all those involved in the industry should focus on giving them the resources they need to make smart choices.