The NCAA attacks its own (again)

On Thursday afternoon the NCAA issued a press release entitled “Executive Committee adopts wagering policy”.  Included was the following statement:

“No predetermined or non-predetermined session of an NCAA championship may be conducted in a state with legal wagering that is based upon single-game betting (high school, college or professional) in a sport in which the NCAA conducts a championship.”

Single-game betting is defined as wagering that involves either a money line or point-spread wager. The recommended policy would not apply to those states that may offer parlay betting, lottery tickets or sports pools/pull tabs.

What this apparently means is that effective immediately, schools in Delaware and Nevada will no longer be able to host any postseason NCAA events.  This includes even those events for which they would have qualified to host by merit.

The policy change will result in the University of Delaware not being able to host an FCS playoff game.  Also affected in that state is Wesley College, which has an excellent football program at the Division III level.  Delaware is a perennial FCS power that has hosted 22 postseason football games, while Wesley has hosted eight Division III playoff games.  The Blue Hens and Wolverines have each hosted playoff games as recently as 2007. 

The University of Nevada-Reno hosted a skiing regional in March and has the capability of hosting other regionals in sports like volleyball, basketball, and baseball.  The opportunity to host those regionals is now off the table for that school (as it is for UNLV). 

Faring a little better than Nevada and Delaware were the state schools in Montana.  There was a fear that the NCAA’s stance would also prohibit events from being held in that state, but the new policy allows sports pools (as opposed to single-game betting), so Montana avoided getting the Nevada/Delaware “treatment”.  This led to a predictably mealy-mouthed response from the Montana state attorney general:

“I applaud the NCAA for coming to a commonsense conclusion that preserves Montana’s right to host playoff and tournament games,” Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock said in a prepared statement. “Montana wholeheartedly supports its student athletes. Along with the NCAA, we remain committed to protecting the integrity of collegiate sports.”

What he is really applauding, of course, is that part about Montana (or Montana State) still getting to host playoff games.  He surely can’t serious in supporting the NCAA’s “commonsense conclusion”, since there isn’t anything sensible about it.

Look, I understand the NCAA’s concern about this issue.  There are two points, though, that need to be made.

1)  It isn’t the fault of the schools.  The colleges and universities in Nevada and Delaware have nothing to do with the gambling laws in those states, and can’t do anything about those laws anyway.  Why punish the student-athletes and institutions for something over which they have no control?

The NCAA presumably is hoping that this new policy will cause the politicians in the state of Delaware to reverse themselves (I can’t imagine even the NCAA thinks things will change in Nevada), but the organization has to know that losing an occasional playoff game is not going to be enough to stop the state from instituting single-game betting.  The legislation passed easily in both houses of the Delaware state legislature.  The state is hoping to generate more than $50 million in revenue from sports betting in the first year of implementation alone.  I’m afraid a playoff game against Southern Illinois or Northern Iowa isn’t going to make that kind of cash.

A cynic might think that the NCAA is punishing its member schools in the states because, well, they are the only entities that the NCAA can punish.  It’s like a version of the old Jerry Tarkanian line, “The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky it gave Cleveland State two more years of probation.”

2)  There have been plenty of schools with gambling scandals from states with no state-sponsored gambling.  Toledo, Northwestern, Florida, Maryland, Rhode Island, Maine, and Arizona State  (just to name a few) all had serious gambling incidents involving student-athletes just in the last two decades.  What Delaware is going to do won’t matter a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.

That is what really upset Nevada-Reno director of athletics Cary Groth.  As she put it:

“It’s outrageous,” Groth said. “Having worked in a non-betting state, in Illinois, it was more of an issue for us to monitor betting for our student-athletes than it is here at Nevada because there’s so much more awareness (here)…All anybody has to do is get on the Internet, or pick up the phone, to place a bet (anywhere in the U.S.).”

Groth added something else, just to stir the pot a little more:

“The NCAA has become such a monopoly on so many things, it’s not right,” Groth said, adding all states affected by the ban are home to non-Bowl Championship Series schools.

You knew that would come up, didn’t you?  Again, cynicism rears its ugly (but often intelligent) head.

I think another hot-button issue (at least, hot-button to the NCAA) is going to be affected by this policy, too.  The “non-predetermined” aspect of the ban will surely come to the attention of (among others) the South Carolina chapter of the NAACP.  As Tom Yeager, commissioner of the CAA, put it in an article written three weeks ago about the Delaware situation:

[Yeager compared] the wagering policy to the NCAA’s stance on South Carolina and Mississippi still flying the Confederate flag.The NCAA allows schools in those states to earn the right to host an NCAA championship event. Clemson, in South Carolina, hosted a recent baseball playoff. But the state would not be awarded a predetermined host role for a larger event, such as an NCAA basketball tournament regional.

Yeager argued that the wagering policy should not be any more stern.

“We continue to support the stand the NCAA has taken but also recognize that member institutions really aren’t part of a fight and shouldn’t be disadvantaged when having earned the right to host [NCAA] games on their campuses,” Yeager said.

It’s hard to argue with Yeager’s last point in particular (member institutions are just bystanders when it comes to these issues).  It’s also not unreasonable to suggest that if the NCAA is going to ban hosting even when merited for the likes of Delaware State or UNLV, the same principle presumably should apply to Mississippi State or Clemson.  The fact that there are four BCS schools in those two states may or may not be a factor.

You can bet there will be more to come on that front.

There are other aspects of this issue that need to be addressed (will the NCAA continue to sanction the Las Vegas Bowl?), but the bottom line is that here again we have an NCAA policy that will mostly, if not entirely, only affect its member institutions and its student-athletes in a negative manner.  I’m not sure who in the organization thought it was a good idea.  I only hope that, like the Andy Oliver case, it comes back to bite the NCAA in a major way.

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