The NCAA’s position on legalized sports betting remains unclear despite its position as a party in the Supreme Court case Christie vs. the NCAA. The case involves the State of New Jersey taking on the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) and could see a verdict returned as early as March 15.
Tom McMillen, former NBA basketball player and head of Lead1, said that after surveying the NCAA athletic directors that make up the association, 80 percent were not in favor of the overturning of PASPA and legalized sports betting on NCAA athletics. He further expressed his desire for Lead1 members to be “attuned to what’s going on, particularly at the state level.”
“I think the NCAA’s position is basically that they’d like to be carved out, but they’re not going to be involved until there’s a determination at the court level, and then they’ll deal with it. There’s a lot of concern because kids are vulnerable and don’t have a lot of resources, we’ve seen this before, I think that’s the core of the concern.
One such example of the kinds of concerns McMillen is talking about was covered by the ESPN 30 for 30 series in its “Playing for the Mob” special. The documentary illustrates the story of how mobster Henry Hill orchestrated the fixing of Boston College basketball games during the 1978-79 season. The controversy and those of its type are often viewed, and rightly so, as a black eye on the college sports industry.
”There are costs, no question about that; what’s the cost to a university if you have a front-page point-shaving scandal? It’s a very significant cost to the university, and the brand and goodwill, and I think there is risk.”
While McMillen mentions that risk, it is additionally vital to note that continuing to introduce legislation on legalized sports betting is important to ensuring that scandals don’t occur. It would make sense that reaching fair agreements which allow legal sportsbooks to be competitive without giving away too much of their potential profits to sports entities like the NCAA and pro sports leagues would be a productive way to phase out illegal activity.
With the existence today of sports data firms such as Sportradar and Genius Sports, closer tabs can be kept on gambling patterns and better regulation can be enacted than was available when PASPA was drafted. Such regulation would, of course, be a crucial element of said legislation and ideally the burden of such would be shared by both state facilities and sports leagues that provide the product.
In addition to his time in the NBA with the Buffalo Braves, New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks and Washington Bullets, McMillen served as member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1987-1993. He was there during the drafting and ultimate passage of PASPA, the federal ban on sports betting established in 1992.
“It’s funny because I was in Congress when we passed PASPA, it was so non-controversial at the time. The law passed in a voice vote in the House and only five 'no' votes in the Senate. Years later, it’s a wholly different animal.”
Interestingly enough, the accomplished McMillen predicted a time when sports gambling’s promises of potential big profits would lead to the concerted efforts we’re seeing today across the U.S. to fight for legalization. His book, Out of Bounds, published the same year PASPA was passed, captures his thoughts on the future of sports betting.
But I wonder how long the sports establishment resists the temptation of gambling revenues. Within the next decade or two, when the sports juggernaut needs new revenues, the sports leagues may well switch sides, banding with the states to push for sports gambling.
While the NCAA’s opinion ultimately might not matter in the short term, if PASPA is, indeed, declared unconstitutional this spring, the NCAA’s cooperation will eventually be needed to enable the further regulation of the practice. Resistance as reported by McMillen’s survey would likely do little to expedite successful negotiations.