The NCAA needs to start planning for a world where sports betting is widely legal

Jul 02, 2017 Sports Other Sports Illustrated

It makes sense that NBA commissioner Adam Silver would warm to gambling. It’s a potential revenue stream for his league, and the current salary structure for the players removes virtually any incentive to fix games. In the next few years, any NBA player who plays significant minutes will be making eight figures annually or headed toward a potential (guaranteed) second contract that pays eight figures annually. No such player would risk that for whatever a fixer would offer to shave points or throw a game.

So if the Supreme Court ultimately rules the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act to be unconstitutional, the NBA would have few problems in a marketplace where every state that currently has a lottery allows some form of sports betting (which is probably what would happen). The NFL and Major League Baseball also could monetize sports betting, either by offering online games—which could be difficult because state laws will differ—or by selling sponsorships to sportsbooks, as English Premier League soccer teams do.

But what about college sports? The NCAA—the other sports organization fighting the New Jersey case that, if successful, would allow individual states to determine whether to allow sports betting—probably wouldn’t monetize legal gambling even though there is a fortune to be made in officially licensed NCAA men’s basketball tournament pools. As the schools and conferences that make up the membership fight in federal court so they can keep colluding to cap athletes’ compensation, the optics of making money from gambling would look terrible. Plus, any such deal would go against the stance the NCAA and schools have taken on betting for decades. That stance is essentially this: Gambling is bad, mmmmmkay?

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