The NCAA had an apparent change of heart today.
In a statement released this morning, the collegiate body offered its support for federal regulation of sports betting. The NCAA has quite literally never expressed any form of approval toward the industry.
President Mark Emmert provided the top-line quote for the presser:
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.
More on what those strong federal standards might include in a moment.
Perhaps more relevant to New Jersey, the NCAA also suspended a rule prohibiting the state from hosting high-level championship events. That policy, which also applied to Nevada, stemmed from NJ’s rebellion against PASPA and the ensuing legal battle with sports leagues.
Let’s look at both aspects of the announcement.
First, NCAA on integrity
If you made a word cloud including all-league statements and testimony on sports betting, “integrity” would be about as common as the word “sports.” Every sporting body values the integrity of their games, and every one of them is concerned about the potential impact as the two industries collide.
Here’s Emmert on the topic:
Our highest priorities in any conversation about sports wagering are maintaining the integrity of competition and student-athlete well-being.
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.
States have different interpretations of what’s required to protect the integrity of sports. Most notably, they’ve shunned requests from the NBA and Major League Baseball for an integrity fee. The leagues argue these payments from sportsbooks are necessary compensation for increased diligence.
The NCAA isn’t likely to be interested in integrity fees — and it’d be hilarious if that ends up being the case — but there are other controls it might want.
The professional leagues have lobbied for data restrictions aimed at allowing them to curtail some in-game betting. The NCAA recently formed a partnership with Genius Sports to control the distribution of its real-time data, but we don’t know much about how that will look in practice, or how it could relate to sports betting.
Regardless of implementation, any support for regulation seems to represent an about-face from the stance that still remains on the NCAA’s sports betting landing page:
The NCAA opposes all forms of legal and illegal sports wagering, which has the potential to undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardizes the welfare of student-athletes and the intercollegiate athletics community.
Maybe not, though?
What do you mean ‘federal regulation’?
Monday’s landmark US Supreme Court ruling made it clear that the US Congress can regulate sports betting if it desires. That means the federal government could still choose to prohibit the activity. It’d have to come up with something better than PASPA, but it could.
So maybe this is the tree up which the NCAA is barking? As mentioned, the league has historically stood against all wagering, and it would prefer if sports betting didn’t exist at all. Maybe it’s hoping for a federal ban?
As a piece of circumstantial evidence, Sen. Orrin Hatch announced plans to introduce a sports betting bill in Congress. He didn’t provide specifics, but it’s worth noting that Hatch is both a practicing Mormon from Utah and one of the original authors of PASPA. He might be one of the nation’s biggest underdogs to support the industry. Expect his bill to cast sports betting in a negative light, though a proposed ban might be a stretch.
What seems more likely is that the NCAA would pitch for expanded restrictions against betting on collegiate sports. It was successful, after all, in convincing many states (and operators) to prohibit daily fantasy sports based on college games. Incidentally, no such limitations exist in the federal law that governs DFS.
On the other hand, it’s certainly possible the NCAA is modernizing its stance a bit and moving to support some forms of sports betting. Its reversal of a location ban seems to add some credence to that line of thought.
New Jersey allowed to host NCAA championships?
The NCAA holds this policy relating to its championship locations:
No pre-determined or non-predetermined session of an NCAA Championship may be conducted in a state with legal wagering that is based on single-game betting on the outcome of any event in a sport in which the NCAA conducts a championship.
Nevada is the only state that meets the criteria right now, although it does host several conference championships.
NJ is under a de facto ban, as well, following its efforts to usurp the federal sports betting law. Between now and 2022, the state will host just two Division III championship events — one in field hockey and one in volleyball.
The NCAA included a temporary suspension of that policy as part of today’s announcement.
Again, though, this may not represent a huge shift as it first appears. States are rushing toward legalization, and some with pending laws have championship events already scheduled. Connecticut, for example, might have legal sports betting by the time it hosts first-round March Madness games next season.
As the NCAA says:
The board’s decision will ensure championship location continuity by temporarily allowing NCAA championship events to occur in states that offer sports wagering.
Continuity. Temporarily. Basically, the NCAA won’t rip up the existing contracts for sites moving toward sports betting. We’ll see how that plays out once the next round of major, D-I championships are awarded to host cities in a few years.
From the announcement:
The Board of Governors may consider more permanent revisions of the championship host policy regarding sports wagering during future meetings.
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