Supreme Court Ruling Opens Door to College Sports Gambling - Higher Education
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Supreme Court Ruling Opens Door to College Sports Gambling

by Gregory Clay

Mere minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a monumental ruling  last week that permits every state the opportunity to implement sports betting, the NCAA disseminated a statement:

“Today the United States Supreme Court issued a clear decision that PASPA is unconstitutional, reversing the lower courts that held otherwise. While we are still reviewing the decision to understand the overall implications to college sports, we will adjust sports wagering and championship policies to align with the direction from the Court,” wrote the NCAA’s chief legal officer, Donald Remy.

With that, the NCAA, which has played a game of tug-of-war for years with its staunch anti-college gambling stance, was placed on notice as the inevitable finally happened in the sports betting world. Legal betting will be allowed on college games in states —not just Nevada anymore — if the individual states so choose.

Len Elmore

According to the high court,  states aren’t obligated to institute sports betting, but the ones who want it can’t be denied by the federal government. And it’s clear that the ruling isn’t only about the pro leagues.

Colleges are now officially in the same room with the big boys when it comes to sports gambling.

Allen Sanderson, a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago who specializes in sports economics, put a bow on the situation in his own inimitable way. Sanderson, who has long viewed the NCAA with a cynical eye, said the NCAA’s true feelings about this historic Supreme Court ruling lie in the punch line of those popular Capital One credit card commercials featuring actress Jennifer Garner and actor Samuel L. Jackson.

“The NCAA is opposed to anything that affects their wallet,” said Sanderson in an interview with Diverse.  “It’s about more than greed; it’s about their self-interest. For the NCAA, it’s like that commercial, ‘What’s in your wallet?’’’

Since 2010, New Jersey has been fighting to make sports wagering legal at racetracks and casinos in the state, but had been blocked repeatedly by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992. However, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that PASPA’s provisions prohibiting states from authorizing and licensing a sports gambling scheme violate the anti-commandeering principle, which asserts that the “federal government cannot force state or local governments to act against their will.”

In a nutshell, the Court specifically ruled that PASPA violated the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (commonly known as the commandeering clause) because it illegally empowered the federal government to order certain states to take specific actions to disallow sports gambling. As a result, that statute is no longer enforceable against states, businesses or individuals.

This U.S. Supreme Court ruling is both fascinating and mysterious because of the unknown and its impact on colleges and universities.

Dr. Richard Lapchick

“I know the NCAA is concerned about betting and scandals,” said Dr. Richard Lapchick, director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. “It’s going to be difficult for states to regulate this. I’m leery of states creating their own regulations because it wouldn’t be uniform from state to state.”

Lapchick’s point about scandals was illustrated a few days ago when Metta World Peace (formerly known as Ron Artest) told Yahoo Sports that he was asked to throw games multiple times when he was a star college basketball player for St. John’s University from 1997-99.

Artest, who is from Queens, N.Y., said that he was offered $35,000 to fix one game.

“I see the issues with betting,” he told Yahoo. “I’ve been approached in college. I got approached a couple times to throw games. The one interesting time, they come to me in my neighborhood and say, ‘Hey, you know, I got 35,000 for you.’  ‘I’m like, ‘All right, that’s cool. I’ll take 35,000.’ They say, ‘Hey, we need you to throw a game.’ And that’s when I’m like, ‘You a–hole.’ ”

But it was tempting, he confessed. “It crossed my mind. ‘$35,000 just to throw a game. Not bad.’ But that’s the problem when you don’t have no money. They find these kids that don’t have no money and attack them. But it’s like, what if I was some kid who was like a little scared. It’s like, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ ”

Like Lapchick, he warns  against the prospect of big-time gambling money in college sports.

“That’s the problem I have with betting because these guys that are betting are— they’re bullies, some of them are bullies,” said World Peace, who played 18 years in the NBA and won championships with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010. “And they’ll force a kid into a situation, and then when the kid is trying to go to the NBA, they hold it against the kid.”

It’s no secret that college sports have been rocked by point-shaving scandals in years past. The City College of New York (CCNY) was involved in a huge basketball scandal in the early 1950s, for example.

And Boston College has dealt with multiple betting scandals, one involving the basketball team in 1979 and another with the football team in 1996.

Now, the Supreme Court has totally changed the dynamics of sports betting.

“I think it’s going to add the need for closer scrutiny,” said Len Elmore, a former basketball All-America player at Maryland and former NBA player and member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. “I’m fearful of betting in college sports. I’m not necessarily against it, but I’m fearful of the consequences. My belief is that it will impact the game in what could be an adverse way.

“These young college players are far more susceptible to the pressures of corruption than pro players.”

However, Sanderson, the sports economics expert, said he believes bringing sports gambling out into the open  will increase transparency, allaying the fears of detractors.

“Now, it’s above board,” Sanderson said, ”instead of being in a back-alley situation. By having it in the open, I think it reduces the probability of a game being fixed. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. There will be more information given because of the betting lines. And bettors will have an easier time spotting something shady going on because of that information. If I had been on the Supreme Court, I would have voted with the six.”

The “six” he’s referring to were the justices who voted to strike down PASPA. In the opinion for that majority, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote: “Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.”

Now, a federal law that was in effect for 26 years has been eliminated, and the embargo on betting outside of Nevada is history. This means questions and issues regarding the Supreme Court ruling are running rampant, as many gamblers probably expect to post bets right on their iPhones – probably while sitting in college arenas and stadiums around the nation. Or, perhaps, there will be betting kiosks right at the game sites.

Dr. Molly Ott, an associate professor in the Division of Educational Leadership & Innovation at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, is a faculty affiliate at Arizona State’s new Global Sports Institute and teaches graduate courses in college sports administration.

Ott’s research focuses on the relationship between gambling revenue and colleges and the nexus between the revenues and athletes’ compensation.

Ott  said the American Gaming Association has estimated that illegal bets on sports amount to approximately $150 billion annually, with $15 billion alone on the Super Bowl and NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The NCAA membership will push to get a cut of those revenues, but how it will be distributed remains to be seen, she said.

“Will the NCAA and/or conferences get a cut, then distribute it according to some predetermined formula? Should universities in states where gambling is not legal receive any of the proceeds? Or should a portion go only to each school involved in a competition where bets are being taken? The extent to which the NCAA and conferences will be involved is unclear. Some sources indicated that even before the Supreme Court’s ruling, West Virginia University and Marshall were directly negotiating with the state to get a cut of proceeds should gambling be legalized.”

And what about possible inequities in betting revenue from state to state?

“Schools with more money are able to build opulent facilities for athletes and pay for top coaches, which are major recruiting advantages,” said Ott. “It stands to reason that programs in states where gambling is anticipated to be legalized within the next year will have a windfall of new funds, while their counterparts in states that are slow to respond will be at a competitive disadvantage.

“Longer term, it will be interesting to see how the relative levels of revenues generated from college sports gambling vary from state to state, and what this means for individual programs. Will states without professional teams, such as Alabama, generate more gambling on their college programs compared to states where the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL presence is stronger, such as New York?  If so, how will this affect programs’ ability to field nationally competitive teams?”

And what about the issue of student-athletes getting paid for their labor, especially because of extra money available to colleges in the form of betting revenues?

Ott said the Supreme Court decision also underscores even further how much money is being generated by a few unpaid college students, primarily those playing football and men’s basketball. For example, in 2015-16, the average SEC program had annual revenues of almost $133 million. The average across the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) schools was $72 million in total revenue. After gambling is legalized, these figures likely will increase.

“The NCAA and its members contend that a college scholarship is fair exchange for the revenues that athletes bring in. This argument has come under fire for many reasons, already,” said Ott. “Their position will be even more difficult to sustain as schools begin to reap the financial benefits associated with gambling on competitions. This Supreme Court decision should put further pressure on schools to more fairly compensate the incredibly talented, hard-working individuals who are primarily responsible for our multibillion-dollar college sports enterprise.”

How much wagering do we really expect for a college’s swim, wrestling or water polo teams?

The betting bonanza in college sports logically would be on football and men’s basketball games, both of which are predominantly Black enterprises at these major institutions.

Could the NCAA’s concerns about sports betting not necessarily be about the specter of scandals, but the prospect of having to pay its players because of the additional revenues from gambling?

Sanderson of the University of Chicago said he supports the legal ruling.

“Economically, the Supreme Court made the right decision,” said Sanderson, who long has been a proponent of paying college athletes. “The business model for the NCAA is going to have to change at some point. The NCAA doesn’t like anyone snooping in its business, but these shady deals with coaches, such as the shoe deals, probably will be exposed at some point and that might happen with this new spotlight on sports betting.

“And it’s not just the money going to coaches. It’s also about these sham operations, like what happened with the ‘paper classes’ at North Carolina and the sexual harassment cases at Michigan State.”

Sanderson said unfair racial practices in the sports economies of major colleges has dominated the industry for years.

“I think the most exploited workers in the American economy are college football and basketball players,” he added. “And at most of these colleges, they are 80 percent Black.”

Len Elmore is concerned about the possible vulnerability of education in this new era of college games and gambling.

“Once again, it would destroy the focus on student-athletes’ health, safety and welfare,” Elmore surmised. “And it would take the emphasis off education.”

As things change, every basic element must be monitored in relation to sports betting — from the players to the coaches to the referees to college boosters to the criminal underworld to the federal and state governments.

In two announcements days after the Supreme Court ruling, NCAA president Mark Emmert said the organization would temporarily allow NCAA championships to be played in states that decide to legalize sports betting, and he urged that strong federal regulations be implemented for a uniform system nationwide.

The NCAA previously had a policy of not allowing any NCAA championship competition to be held in a state allowing single-game sports wagering.

“Our highest priorities in any conversation about sports wagering are maintaining the integrity of competition and student-athlete well-being,” said Emmert. “Sports wagering can adversely impact student-athletes and undermine the games they play. We are committed to ensuring that laws and regulations promote a safe and fair environment for the nearly half a million students who play college athletics. While we recognize the critical role of state governments, strong federal standards are necessary to safeguard the integrity of college sports and the athletes who play these games at all levels.”

Still, money-strapped state governments have much to gain from sports wagering in the form of tax revenues. Consider some of the poorer southern states without major pro teams, for instance. Imagine the potential sports betting on University of Kentucky basketball or football at the University of Arkansas, the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State, all states where the number-one game in town is on the college level.

Said Sanderson: “Once people stop whining about this, they will go, ‘Hey, we can get some tax revenue.”’

And potentially a lot of it.

 

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