Legalized betting is coming to college football, and the SEC is bracing for impact
As sports betting gets legalized state by state, issues are set to prop up throughout college athletics
DESTIN, Fla. -- Nick Saban is ready for your questions.
He doesn't necessarily like them, but he knows the queries are coming in a college football world suddenly awash with a heightened awareness of point spreads, injury reports and everything else related to gambling.
That would be legal gambling, sure to hit college sports in some form this upcoming season now that theallowing states the ability to legalize sports betting.
Alabama's coach has already thought about how far all of it could go.
"If everyone is going to be able to instantly bet on their own as to whether this guy is going to be able to make a field goal or whether they're going to score a touchdown in the red area, that could be a problem," Saban told CBS Sports.
"It could create tremendous negative feedback social media-wise. What if the guy misses?"
That's only the beginning. What if the guy who misses causes the Crimson Tide not to cover?
"I don't think it's my responsibility," Saban replied. "They're gambling. They're taking a risk. It's not my risk."
That's one way of looking at college athletics' new reality, and not just here at the SEC spring meetings. As the SEC is the nation's most powerful football conference, Destin might as well be Ground Zero for the realization of a new age.
"It Just Means More" takes on a whole new meaning.
"Before, it was more underground, online, offshore [betting]," Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork said. "Now, it's going to be in your face, down the road from our campus."
Mississippi is expected to be among the first states to implement sports gambling. The closest sportsbook to the Ole Miss campus is likely to be 74 miles away in Tunica.
"Now it takes on a different light," Bjork said. "Now, you have to tell these players, 'You can't go in sportsbooks. You can't bet on sports.'"
That's always been the case for players. The NCAA is unlikely to depart from one of its foundational tenets -- all legal and illegal gambling by athletes is a violation -- but the association has already adjusted to the new era saying it would "adjust sports wagering and championship policies to align with the direction from the court."
If it didn't, the NCAA might not have anywhere to stage its championships. It previously refused to place championship events in states (Nevada) that allowed sports gambling. Now, at least half of the states are moving toward legalizing sports gambling, according to various reports.
"Maybe it becomes better regulated," Florida coach Dan Mullen said. "I think [like] a lot of things in the world, sometimes, it's better to have things legal and regulated."
That is one common reaction. The American Gaming Association pointed out before this year's NCAA Tournament that only 3 percent of the $10 billion bet on March Madness would be done so legally.
Several sports gaming officials stressed to CBS Sports: The cleaner the games, the better off everyone will be whether in Las Vegas or Tunica.
"We're actually going to detect more betting fraud," said Geoff Freeman, CEO of the AGA. "The implications are significant. Colleges now have a choice. The NCAA has a choice. Keep your head in the sand or come into the modern age, embrace the technology, utilize the resources that are available to track all the bets that are placed in order to protect the integrity of the games."
"Integrity" has become a loaded word in this new era. The NBA and MLB have suggested they should get a 1 percent "integrity fee" from the wagers to offset the costs of heightened security and compliance in its league.
Marshall and West Virginia reportedly became the first two NCAA schools to reach such an agreement in their state. Mountaineers AD Shane Lyons wants to use part of that money to hire an additional compliance person.
"When you're talking to the professional athletes making millions of dollars, it's hard to entice them [to cheat] with a small amount of money," Lyons said. "For the college athlete, that might make it easier to entice them. We're going to have to step it up."
That also might mean requiring coaches to produce mandatory, accurate injury reports -- same as the NFL. In football, and especially in the SEC, coaches would rather walk on hot coals than be open and honest about the health of their players.
"Me reporting injuries, if that does something for that, I'll be glad to do it," Saban said. "But I don't think anybody has a right to know, if you want to know the truth about it."
The NFL and NBA are in relatively controlled environments with set rosters and approximately 30 teams in each league. As Lyons said, players are paid handsomely enough that concerns over point-shaving are virtually nil.
There are 129 FBS teams and 351 Division I basketball programs. There might be that many philosophies about reporting injuries. Since at least 2012, the ACC has produced football injury reports that are due 48 hours before the upcoming game. For reasons that haven't been explained, the injury reports ended after last season.
It has been confusing. Going forward, such a mandate could be impossible even if federal legislation is developed to oversee sports betting.
"We all try to keep the injuries [confidential] for a number of reasons," Lyons said. "One, for gambling. Two, for the game itself. Teams are trying to prepare for [an injured opponent]."
In refusing to disclose injuries, some coaches fall back on HIPAA, a federal law that provides for privacy regarding medical information. Others provide a complete injury report. Still, others obfuscate.
"I'm not a big sharer of information from week to week," Mullen said. "If there is a significant injury, I let everybody know. If it's a week-to-week thing, I try not to comment or talk about it too much. That's somebody else's problem."
The gambling community doesn't embrace disinformation. There is already speculation that state gaming commissions could require college coaches to provide accurate injury information. That's basically how the NFL injury report evolved -- as a check and balance to insure betting integrity. That can make even the most mundane NFL matchup worthy of betting interest. Unlike college, the injury reporting routine is uniform in the NFL.
"There is the thing where Tom Brady is questionable every week for his career," said Chad Millman, head of media for The Action Network. "Some [NFL] teams do that just to sort of play games anyway. There are ways to find out if he's probable, if he's out."
The NFL has mandated injury reports since 1946 when then-commissioner Bert Bell suspected a couple of New York Giants of taking bribes to throw the league's championship game.
Over the years, as Millman pointed out, that report has sometimes become a cat-and-mouse game between coaches and the league. Those coaches are required to issue injury reports regarding practice, participation for the game and in-game updates. (The latter usually for TV purposes.)
Until 2016, there were four designations -- out, doubtful, questionable and probable. Two years ago, the NFL took out "probable," throwing the fantasy world into a tizzy.
"For people who set their lineups on Friday, that put a little bit more cloudiness to it," said Jamey Eisenberg, CBS Sports senior fantasy writer. "I think we saw teams using the 'doubtful' tag more. It certainly hurt."
Now try to translate that to the college space.
"When you're talking about placing a wager on a game, you'd like to know which Georgia running backs are in the game," Eisenberg said.
The reach of college sports makes any accurate injury information difficult.
"In the college game, the closest thing you can do [to get accurate information] is follow either local media and/or the school website itself," said Josh Nagel, SportsLine's senior analyst. "Then you kind of make up your mind."
If you don't think legal gambling is going to be a big deal in SEC country, consider three years ago when SEC coaches freaked over the possibility thatcompared to their programs.
That worked itself out. College sports is now sure to join a culture that involved $5 billion in sports-related bets last year in Nevada alone, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board. With sports betting able to be legalized state-by-state, Nagel estimated that number nationwide could be between $160 billion and $400 billion.
"Sports betting has been around forever," Millman said. "It's not going away. It's a massive industry that is lurking in the shadows. The integrity of the game is threatened whether it's legal or not."
College athletics are about to change rapidly. Think of just one the possibilities hinted at by Saban: In-stadium betting on your phone. Imagine being able to go out into a Bryant-Denny Stadium concourse and put some legal action on the Iron Bowl.
If that sounds outlandish for football, consider that it has been possible at soccer matches in Europe for years.
The prop bets alone could be limitless …
- Will Alabama coaches wear white or red polos on the sideline of the season opener?
- Decibels Kyle Field will reach at Saturday's Texas A&M game (over/under 120).
- Will Chip Kelly's first play at UCLA be a run or pass?
- Will Jalen Hurts be on Alabama's opening day roster?
- Which FBS coach will be the first one to be fired in 2018?
Considering the hallowed amateur model, all of it sounds equal parts sleazy and entertaining as hell. Or maybe the purists just have to get over themselves.
Expect the same companies who set up sportsbooks overseas to flood the zone in the United States. Several sources mentioned William Hill, a U.K.-based bookmaking company that was granted a license in the U.S. in 2012. It already offers sports wagering at 108 locations in Nevada and had $2.4 billion in 2017 revenue, according to Sports Business Journal.
"Nobody in Idaho knows how to run a sportsbook. That doesn't mean they can't," Nagel said. "The reason William Hill came to the United States five years ago was basically waiting on this day. They were just waiting for the moment when this happened."
That's where the integrity begins. The overwhelming majority of modern betting scandals have occurred in college. Since 1978, there have been point-shaving basketball scandals at Northwestern, Tulane, Arizona State, Auburn, San Diego and Boston College.
"There are too many basketball games, too many players to keep up with," Millman said.
The upside of that? It's in the Nevada Gaming Control Board's best interest to spot impropriety. The sportsbooks worked in concert with the FBI when the Arizona State point-shaving scandal was detected 20 years ago.
"It's really a combination of people nobody knows making huge bets on the same team," Millman explained in describing how point-shaving is detected. "A bookmaker will approve a $100,000-$200,000 bet on Alabama to cover by 25 over Vanderbilt. But if that same person is coming in and betting on Alabama to not cover every single weekend, and it came out of nowhere, that would sort of raise flags."
Saban will be pleased to know Alabama is a, well, good bet going into the 2018 opener against Louisville.
The Tide are 6-2 against the spread in their last eight against ACC teams. They're also 5-1 against the spread in the last six neutral site games in which they're favored by at least 10.5 points. (Alabama is favored by 28.5 over Louisville in Orlando, Florida.) And you might as well stash away this valuable piece of info at Camping World Stadium: Alabama is 5-0 against the spread in its last five on artificial turf.
All of it heightens attention on an area coaches would rather keep to themselves.
"If you're on a phone call with a buddy and he wants to know a little bit too much, you say, 'What do you want to know that for?'" explained Tennessee AD Phillip Fulmer. "'That's none of your business.'"
"We can't have a viable [process] if people are questioning the integrity of the games," Freeman said. "Then their sports turn to WWE."
The argument is similar to one surrounding the current FBI investigation into college basketball. Reformers suggest that putting player compensation above board -- in the form of marketing rights for players -- eliminates a lot of the black market.
"Sports gambling has been happening for a long, long time," Nevada AD Doug Knuth said. "Now it's going to be above board and regulated. My sense is this probably cleans things up even better."
Ole Miss has already consulted with UNLV on how to deal with legal gambling exposed to its athletes. Former Rebels coach John Robinson used to have a media guide distributed to the sportsbooks containing mug shots of his players.
It's understandable Knuth has been getting a lot of calls from media lately. His athletic department operates in a gambling micro-climate. The Nevada campus is down the street from a Reno casino.
"We have fans, boosters who will ask us from time to time, 'How is so-and-so's ankle doing?,'" Knuth said. "We tell people, 'We don't comment on that. Nice of you to ask, but because of student privacy laws … we're not allowed to say anything.'"
There are at least different -- if not altogether good -- times ahead.
"I see and hear what everyone else is saying," Knuth added. "One of the things I keep telling people over and over again: The gaming industry is the most highly-regulated industry in America."
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