The sky isn't falling, but there are storm clouds with insiders betting on college sports
Want a hot stock tip? If it goes public, invest in U.S. Integrity.
It’s the gambling watchdog company that sniffed out the scandal involving Alabama’s baseball coach last week. A few days later, an investigation began involving dozens of athletes at Iowa and Iowa State.
The incidents were unrelated, but they’ve sent a distress signal across college sports. They’re the first scandals since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized sports wagering in 2018.
Critics recalled past point-shaving scandals and fretted that the sky would start falling. It hasn’t happened yet - as far we know.
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That’s the thing about athletes and coaches betting or passing along inside information. We don’t know what we don’t know.
Well, we do know there aren’t a lot of coaches as buffoonish as Alabama’s Brian Bohannon.
He was fired after allegedly calling an acquaintance in Cincinnati with some inside dope on a game. That person bet on Alabama to lose.
Bingo, LSU beat the Crimson Tide 8-6.
The Iowa stuff doesn’t appear to be nearly as corrupt. Athletes were apparently betting mostly on pro sports. That’s legal in Iowa if you’re over 21, though the NCAA forbids gambling on any sport in which it conducts a championship.
(It’s silly that a swimmer at Fresno State can’t bet on the Wimbledon final, but that shows how averse the NCAA is over the hint of gambling impropriety.)
How big is betting among collegiate athletes, staff?
We don’t know how many college players or athletic staff members have engaged in Iowa-like activity over the years. But I’d wager it’s enough to fill Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The question administrators are now asking is what more can be done to make sure the sky doesn’t tumble down?
The sobering answer is not much.
Schools already lecture athletes and staff about the gambling rules and the consequences of breaking them. They know the statistics, how the sports-betting market is expected to grow 10% a year and be worth $182 billion by 2030.
They know that 75% of college students say they’ve gambled in the past year. They know phone apps and in-game betting now make wagering easier than ordering a pizza.
And schools know athletes aren’t typical students.
They have inside info on injuries and disciplinary measures and other factors that could impact the outcome of games. That’s led to the growth of companies like U.S. Integrity.
It monitors wagering, websites and social media for gambling anomalies, and notifies clients of suspicious activity. The SEC signed up in 2018.
Call to U.S. Integrity set off Alabama investigation
When Bohannan’s pal allegedly placed an odd bet (anyone in Cincinnati betting more than $5 on an SEC baseball game is an oddball), the sportsbook called U.S. Integrity. It investigated and alerted the SEC and Ohio gambling regulators, who took the LSU-Alabama game off the board.
Before 2018, such chicanery might well have gotten lost in some offshore gambling website or a bookie's tattered notebook. At least that’s the industry spin.
“It proves that regulated sports betting and transparency in the marketplace that we have now, it works,” U.S. Integrity president Matt Holt told the AP. “When people do nefarious things, we catch them.”
Speaking of transparency, it might help if schools would emulate the NFL and post injury reports during the week. That would rankle coaches, but it would also make such info a lot less “inside.”
“It’s a lot easier for a pro league to set standards than colleges, but it’s worth having a conversation about,” Florida AD Scott Stricklin said.
One thing that colleges cannot do is chum up to gambling. At least eight schools lined up “official sportsbook partners” in the past couple of years.
University deals with gambling sites smack of hypocrisy
Most of those schools are now cancelling those deals. Preaching against gambling while taking money from Caesars (hello LSU) is just a bad look all around.
“I think gambling as an industry is going to stay away from those kinds of things,” Stricklin said.
Beyond that, the options are limited. Sports gambling is now a legalized and expanding way of life.
Schools can drill the rules into athletes and staff members. But ultimately, it’s up to those people to keep the sky from falling.
If they don’t, Big Brothers like U.S. Integrity will be watching. The safest bet of all is that while they’ve been busy so far, the real work has just begun.
David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley