Alabama baseball gambling scandal part of college sports' new reality – USA TODAY

Five years have passed since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Murphy v. NCAA overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which barred states from legalizing gambling on professional and college sports.
The proliferation of fantasy sports companies such as DraftKings and expansive state-by-state legislation have since brought sports gambling into the national mainstream, pulling college athletics along for the ride.
“As legal sports betting has expanded geographically, it’s become a lot more mainstream and definitely a lot more higher profile,” said UNLV professor David Schwartz, the former director of the university’s Center for Gaming Research.
At this intersection of gambling and the NCAA, recent allegations of violations involving the baseball program at Alabama underscore a fear within college sports: that given the increasingly easy access to sports gambling in person and online, players and coaches will be unable to resist the temptation to break one of the cardinal NCAA rules.
“To some degree, it was inevitable,” said Oklahoma State professor John Holden, who has written extensively on the regulation of sports gambling. “There was a lot of focus on how much revenue this was going to bring in for the state and not a lot of looking at the consequences, which we’re now starting to see some of them.”
On May 1, the executive director of the Ohio Casino Control Commission issued an emergency order prohibiting any wagers on Alabama’s baseball program after receiving a report from an independent monitor detailing two suspiciously large bets placed in advance of the Crimson Tide’s matchup against LSU.
The wagers were placed at the sportsbook inside Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park. While the amount that was gambled is unknown, Ohio law prohibits anonymous wagers over $1,000 at brick-and-mortar sportsbooks.
A person with knowledge of the ensuing investigation told The Tuscaloosa News, part of the USA TODAY NETWORK, that Alabama head coach Brian Bohannon was connected to the suspicious bets.
Three days later, the university fired Bohannon for “violating the standards, duties and responsibilities expected of university employees.” 
Gaming commissions in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kansas and New Hampshire have joined Ohio in canceling all possible wagers on Alabama baseball. In Connecticut, three licensed betting operators — FanDuel, DraftKings and SugarHouse — have removed the option to bet on the Crimson Tide.
While college sports have evolved and adapted to the point where athletes can now monetize their celebrity status, restrictions on any form of gambling remain one of the hallmarks of the NCAA rulebook.
According to the NCAA, athletes and other members of athletics departments may not “bet on any sport sponsored by the NCAA at any level,” which also prohibits gambling on professional sports, nor “share information for sports wagering purposes.”
“Sports wagering has the potential to undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardizes the well-being of student-athletes and the intercollegiate athletics community,” according to the NCAA.
“I think one of the things that happens in college is that most of the student-athletes are not being paid, or they’re making a little bit of money in NIL, and they can very well — and rightfully — feel like they’re being taken advantage of,” Smith College professor and sports economist Andrew Zimbalist said at an April symposium focusing on integrity in college sports. “And they’re much more vulnerable to gamblers and fixing games.”
And issues that currently exist in the uncomfortable marriage of gambling and college athletics may become even more widespread as states continue to legalize sports betting and a generation of athletes grow up in an environment where the ability to wager money on sports is only a fingertip away.
“Five years from now, I don’t think college baseball will be a niche sport from a betting standpoint,” said Aaron Moore, a professor at Rider University who also covers betting for the sports gambling outlet VSiN (Vegas Stats and Information Network).
“Not that it’s going to be the same level of Major League Baseball or NCAA football or basketball, but five years from now, there’s going to be more people betting on it. It’s going to take more action.”
That this betting scandal occurred outside one of the premier college offerings by interest and coverage — football and men’s and women’s basketball — is a reflection of the niche nature of college baseball and the even smaller subset of individuals who gamble on the sport.
However, that there is typically little action on college baseball makes things easier on independent and in-house auditors and investigators; any noticeable deviation, such as the bets placed on Alabama and LSU, can immediately stand out from the normal flow of wagers.
“That is how the system is supposed to work,” Moore said. “You make a wager, it’s scrutinized — it’s scrutinized by the sportsbooks, it’s scrutinized by the integrity companies, who then alert the leagues or the NCAA. So these large wagers aren’t going unnoticed. And if it’s a large wager on a regular-season baseball game that should not get a lot of action, it’s going to really set off the wheels of action. And that’s what happened.”
This low interest helped to quickly pinpoint the suspicious wagers made in connection to Alabama’s baseball program. But the inverse could hold true with sports such as college football and college basketball. An estimated $8 billion worth of wagers are made in a given college football season and roughly a quarter of the country’s adult population planned to gamble on this year’s March Madness, according to the American Gaming Association.
In Colorado, for example, college baseball has appeared among the 10 most gambled-on sports in a single month just once since legalized gambling took effect in May 2020, according to data provided to USA TODAY Sports by Legal Sports Report. In June 2022, there was $1,022,899 wagered on college baseball, representing 0.33% of the $313 million in total wagers for the month. In comparison, table tennis has made 35 appearances in the top 10 during the same span.
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“Any volume of money moving on college baseball is going to be pretty suspicious pretty quickly,” Holden said. “If this was college football, we might not see these things quite as easily.”
There is no blanket NCAA response or penalty for any gambling-related rule violation. Most recently, Virginia Tech linebacker Alan Tisdale was suspended for the first six games of the 2022 season after he self-reported gambling “a little more than $400” on the NBA.
In addition to Bohannon, the most notable gambling-related incident involving a college head coach saw Washington’s Rick Neuheisel fired in 2003 after he took part in an NCAA tournament bracket pool and then lied to investigators about his participation.
An NCAA study conducted in 2016 found that 55% of male athletes had gambled for money within the past year and 24% had wagered on sporting events. According to the same study, 11% of Division I football players and 5% of men’s basketball players bet on a college game in their sport but not involving their specific team.
But that study came two years before Murphy reversed the ban on the expansion of state-sanctioned gambling. Given the vastly increased access to in-person and online gambling, could those numbers have risen dramatically in 2023?
“I do believe the NCAA is going to refresh that study,” former U.S. Congressman and LEAD1 CEO Tom McMillen said at last month’s symposium.
Two additional athletics departments have become embroiled in possible gambling scandals since Bohannon’s dismissal from Alabama.
Iowa said Monday that 111 individuals have been flagged in an internal investigation into sports gambling, including 26 athletes in baseball, football, wrestling, men’s basketball and men’s track and field, as well as one athletics department employee.
In a statement issued this week, Iowa State said that “approximately” 15 athletes representing football, wrestling and track and field may have gambled on sporting events.
According to the state’s board of regents, the wagering involving Iowa and Iowa State was conducted online. Both universities have informed the NCAA of potential violations.
There is one key distinction between the case involving Alabama baseball and the possible violations at Iowa and Iowa State: There were no indications that any gambling conducted by these athletes impacted betting lines, according to Brian Ohorilko, the administrator of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.
“We currently do not have any indication that there are any issues that would raise doubt on the integrity of the markets that have been offered from those two universities,” Ohorilko told the Des Moines Register, part of the USA TODAY NETWORK.
Combined, however, the situations at these three schools illuminate a broader concern about sports gambling on college campuses across all levels of competition.
For years, the NCAA has built an internal advertising campaign around a slogan, “Don’t bet on it,” distributing posters and placards to member schools to place in common areas such as weight rooms and locker rooms.
In the wake of the Alabama scandal and with the possibility of even more schools stepping forward to announce investigations into their own athletics departments, experts say the NCAA needs to take an even more proactive role in educating athletes, coaches and staffers about the dangers of gambling and the consequences for breaking the longstanding rule against sports betting.
“The consequences are really significant for this,” Holden said. “I think this is going to be an eye-opening experience and one where schools really need to look and say, ‘OK, we have got to rethink how we are educating our athletes and we have got to get in front of this and make this make sense to them.’ Because what we’re doing is not working.”
Contributing: Tom Schad
Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg


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