NCAA Steps up Anti-Gambling Efforts

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.3, March 2006,

Dick Davey, Head Men’s Coach at Santa Clara University, believes his student-athletes are smart young men who already know the dangers of gambling on sports. Still, he knows that with state lotteries, televised poker, and pro-sports fantasy leagues, gambling is pervasive. He doesn’t stay awake at night wondering if his players are involved with gamblers. But still…

“It’s like raising your kids,” Davey says. “You have no guarantees. You know kids are sometimes going to make decisions that are not good. If you have a sure-fire method of stopping it and can let us know, we’ll use it.”

The NCAA isn’t claiming it has a sure-fire way of keeping student-athletes from gambling on their sport or others, but its Sports Wagering Task Force is stepping up its anti-gambling efforts. An anonymous survey of 21,000 student-athletes in all three divisions found that 34.6 percent of male student-athletes had engaged in some form of sports wagering in the past year. Among female student-athletes surveyed, the figure was 9.6 percent.

Most alarmingly, about two percent of men’s basketball players reported that someone had asked them to affect the outcome of a game. About half of one percent of basketball players said they had taken the money. The numbers are small but suggest the problem isn’t going away.

Thus far, the NCAA’s focus has been on educating student-athletes on the dangers of sports-wagering. An anti-gambling Web site is being developed in time for this year’s Final Four, and “Don’t Bet On It,” an educational brochure on the dangers of sports wagering, is currently available.

After citing their own personal values and the threat of stiffer punishments, student-athletes in the survey cited coaches as the most important anti-gambling influence. Jim Haney, Executive Director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches and a member of the NCAA’s anti-gambling task force, agrees. “If you’re a coach, you don’t want to get into a situation where people are starting to make accusations because they’ve seen you betting on other sports,” says Haney. “You don’t want your integrity to come into question in terms of where you draw the line. You’ve got to take the high road and stay completely away from it.”

There are signs the NCAA’s anti-gambling education programs help. Survey respondents in Division I reported less sports wagering than in Divisions II and III, and NCAA officials suggest that’s because anti-gambling efforts so far have focused on the highest-profile division. Roanoke College Head Men’s Coach Page Moir, who has also coached in Division I, sees different kinds of challenges at the two levels. In Division I, Moir remembers getting odd calls from strangers probing for team information. Now in Division III, he sees his involvement more as a way to help athletes avoid personal financial troubles.

To educate his athletes, he talks about sports wagering formally before the season starts and informally through the year. Among the books he often assigns for holiday-break reading is one on college point-shaving scandals of the early 1950s. Scandals of ’51, written by Charley Rosen, helps players understand that basketball is especially susceptible to point-shaving and fixing, and that gambling almost destroyed the game—crucial knowledge given today’s culture, when student-athletes may think of gambling as harmless. They begin to see that any involvement, however innocuous it might seem, could result in debts spiraling out of control and lead otherwise honest players to do something they never thought they’d do.

“When you get into betting on a sport, it can lead to greater problems than just losing 20 bucks at poker,” says Moir. “Too many times it escalates into higher and higher bets, so for a Monday night football game night you’re losing 50 bucks instead of five. From there it can just keep escalating out of control, and that’s when it gets scary.”

For NCAA educational materials against sports wagering, see:

The National Council on Problem Gambling maintains a 24-hour confidential help line: (800) 522-4700.