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The Next NCAA Hurdle: Legalized Sports Gambling

Gambling is going to be legalized in a lot of new places, what does that mean for college athletics

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon on November 13th, 2016, the sun streaming in through the window and the temperature in Minneapolis was a merciful 55 degrees (pretty mild for November).

The coffee was still piping hot, the Reuben and tater tots were hitting the spot, while I sat firmly planted in a steadily sinking couch cushion. That is where I sit every Sunday I can during football season: One TV turned to Red Zone, one TV locked into my best bet and the laptop rotating between fantasy football, a progressing article and a second team that I placed my faith in (and my money on).

On this Sunday, the game captivating me was the road dog Kansas City Chiefs against the Carolina Panthers. Kansas City had me hook, line and sinker on both the money line and spread (I believe those numbers were minus -110 and -1.5 points respectively).

The Chiefs started poorly, to say the least, doing their best to swallow a 17-3 halftime deficit. Their offense had stymied for two quarters, trying and failing to do something against Luke Kuechly and company. But for whatever reason, I still had that nagging feeling with which every gambler is familiar.

“You aren’t crazy, the game is funky right now but your senses were correct,” the voice whispered in the back of my head, so I promptly doubled down at halftime.

That was when the Chiefs started their comeback in the rain and the muck of Bank of America Stadium. Following a field goal, KC’s safety Eric Berry housed an interception from 42 yards out. Much later in the game, and a lot of superb KC defense compensating for the horrendous offense, corner Marcus Peters snagged a fumble with nine seconds on the clock, leading to the game-winning field goal for the 20-17 comeback.

I had been off the couch since early in the third quarter, now jumping and yelling like one of the third string linebackers on the bench. As I logged onto my gambling account, ready to scoop up my winnings, my joy melted into anger while staring down an empty account balance, the wager unpaid. The excuse: a processing error on the site.

Why am I telling this story? Because this system is over. Finished. Canned. While I have only gambled for roughly eight years, suffering excruciating gambling losses to the Auburn kick six and the 2012 Ray Lewis Ravens, nothing was worse than losing a winning bet to the sleazy offshore bookies behind laptops. But that is all behind us after the Supreme Court knocked down the Professional and Amatur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) with a 6-3 vote.

What does that mean?

Because the Supreme Court struck down the PASPA, it does not mean sports gambling goes into effect immediately. Now each state is allowed to make its own decision, opening a door that was previously closed.

States will want their pound of flesh from the gambling profits, but so will leagues. The NBA (by far the most progressive when it comes to gambling) has always been open to the sports gambling world and in talks about snagging a one percent integrity fee. The NFL too is interested in the market created by the law change, opening up plenty of new opportunities in many states.

For every state that changes their views with the Supreme Court, sports bets will be everywhere. Now you can pick up those Saturday college bets, along with a pack of smokes at the gas station. Instead of having to entrust an offshore site, you can simply make a bet with a local book.

But what does all this have to do with college?

The NCAA has already had an exciting season, marred by a massive basketball scandal over paying players. Money around college sports has always caused concern: Should players be paid? Are they already? Is the system corrupt? Can it be fixed?

But added cash in the form of legal wagers adds more money surrounding the sport, while also presenting more complications around the refusal to pay players.

Currently, the guidelines for student-athletes receiving any sort of compensation are strict, including consequences for winning money in fantasy football.

In the eyes of the NCAA, any type of added incentive outside of the school-regulated scholarships is an unfair advantage. But what if student-athletes throughout all Division 1 sports (especially football and basketball) were regularly paid?

There are two foreseeable outcomes to the actions around the change: Either the NCAA ignores the change and stays rigid to their system, or they make a complete 180-degree change.

Option 1 -

The NCAA keeps their stadiums clean of any kind of wagers, stay steadfast in their ways of the past, free of added incentives for their athletes. While many would defend the schools, the downside is those rumblings in favor of paying athletes would reach a deafening roar. The opportunity for gambling revenue added to the well of TV money already invested in college football would put more money around student-athletes than ever before.

The NCAA can keep trying to fight the two-faced “good fight” that they are dedicated to telling everyone they are still fighting. However, the college realm needs to either tighten up how they run things if they are to continue to keep student-athletes pay-free, lest FBI cases become a more regular occurrence.

Option 2 -

The NCAA cuts a deal across all states legalizing sports gambling, taking an integrity fee like the NBA may eventually take. Once a slice of the wagering pie has been cut for college, the NCAA starts paying athletes for their service to the school.

This is the far more drastic (and unlikely) scenario, but with the revenue introduced via gambling, it could be finally be enough to push student-athletes into paid athletes. This would not only quell a debate that has been fought ever since the TV deals became increasingly lucrative, but also adds a fair way to spread revenue evenly throughout college.

If the pay for an athlete comes from the sports gambling in the state, the disparity between what an Alabama could offer and Louisiana Tech tightens. ESPN makes far more from the SEC Network and Alabama football than they ever will from Louisiana Tech, which would be reflected in recruiting contracts if colleges started paying players now. The SEC creates tons of money from TV and that will not change.

But if colleges paid players from the gambling percentage by state, they could create a revenue stream based off bets made on college from that state, which would offer a team like Louisiana Tech far more incoming money. This could keep Alabamas or Ohio States from buying recruiting classes.

This change seems far-fetched, with the college ranks seemingly closed off to gambling. When contacting Stanford’s athletic department, they seemed to be nervous about any reply.

“Any comment on the (sports gambling) situation must come from our PR department and anyone from a coach to the athletic director to staff will not give a comment on the subject that has not been run past the school first,” said one of the secretaries in the athletic department.

For the present, the NCAA may try to ignore the development altogether.

Change is coming -

Whatever happens, be sure that change will be coming. Either you agree athletes should be paid or not, but whichever side you fall on, both can agree the system is currently broken and needs to adjust.

Because the NCAA is the way it is, the desperately needed change was probably only distantly foreseeable. The best part of the legalizing of sports gambling may just be the forced change from college.