Do you want to hear the most annoying sound in the world? It actually isn’t Jim Carrey screaming a high-pitched shrill directly into your ear. It’s the bloviation of NCAA-member institution athletic department and NCAA organization officials regarding gambling policies in college sports.
While the gambling activity that led to the dismissal of former Alabama head baseball coach Brad Bohannon was dumb, the NCAA’s current rules regarding gambling by people with connections to sporting events that its member institutions participate in are dumber.
Dumbest yet is the belief that the NCAA can do anything about gambling on the part of athletes, athletic directors, coaches, managers, sports information staff, trainers, etc. Ultimately what is “dumberest” is that the NCAA knows it’s powerless but won’t implement common sense policies that are truly actionable because that’s what the NCAA does.
It seems Bohannon really was that dumb
If you have been following the situation regarding the dismissal of Bohannon in Tuscaloosa, you might have thought that a guy who rose to be manager of an SEC baseball program couldn’t possibly be foolish enough to use a proxy to place a giant bet on his own team using a regulated sportsbook. You’ve given him too much credit. Apparently, that’s exactly what happened.
CBS Sports‘ Dennis Dodd reports that Bohannon and the guy he used as a proxy in Ohio actually wanted to put down an even larger bet than the book would allow, ranging into six figures. Obviously, these men were completely oblivious to how regulated gambling works and how immediately obvious their scheme would be.
It’s the gambling industry equivalent of walking into a retail store wearing a shirt that says “shoplifter” while also verbally informing a member of the store’s staff that you intend to shoplift and handing that staff member a paper copy of your criminal record showing previous shoplifting convictions with a mugshot for easy identification. Bohannon could have just saved everyone a lot of effort and time by resigning instead of demonstrating a level of ignorance that disqualified him from the position.
The density of this act is such low-hanging fruit that it’s just barely hanging onto the tree as it actually rests on the ground, though. Rules regarding gambling by people with connections to collegiate sports are more dimwitted.
The NCAA’s gambling rules are dumber
One thing needs to be pristinely clear. Bohannon and his proxy were not caught because of the governance of college sports. They got caught because of the regulation of gambling. The NCAA does have rules on gambling and last week updated penalties for certain acts of gambling. The rules are doltish, though.
As Dodd points out, NCAA rules state that “employees, coaches, administrators, and athletes cannot wager on any sport — amateur, pro or college — in which the association sponsors a championship.” The NCAA’s Division I manual also has a gambling-related restriction on certain external competitions for athletes.
Under that rule, basketball players who compete in summer leagues in venues with connections to gambling companies that offer betting on college sports risk their eligibility to play their sport in NCAA-sanctioned competitions.
For example, a person who plays in a summer league at Mohegan Sun Arena would technically be ineligible to play basketball for an NCAA-member institution. That venue is part of a casino that offers betting on college sports.
While those restrictions have several obvious flaws, what’s dumbest about the situation is the notion that individual member institutions, much less the NCAA itself, can actually enforce them.
NCAA rules are the epitome of “Whose Line”
Perhaps the greatest cultural contribution of the US adaptation of the television show, “Whose Line is it Anyway?” is the phrase that host Drew Carey coined.
NCAA rules are a perfect example of taking the premise of Carey’s, “where everything is made up and the points don’t matter” then trying to apply it in real life. It works about as well as you would imagine.
The NCAA itself has zero real authority to enforce any of its rules. It’s a completely voluntary association that exists to serve the interests of its members. While it does write rules, the individual member institutions are responsible for policing themselves.
That includes policies on gambling. In order to enforce those rules, though, athletic departments at colleges and universities have to be aware of such activity. Additionally, the motivation to enforce the rules is necessary. A hypothetical situation reveals how that can fall apart.
Suppose a university athletic department becomes aware that the head coach of its men’s basketball team wagered $5 on a FIFA World Cup match the preceding year just prior to that team’s appearance in a March Madness tournament. In order to adhere to NCAA rules, the athletic department should immediately suspend that coach.
It would take an extraordinary amount of loyalty to the letter of the rules to do so. Making that decision would represent risking a treasure trove of revenue over one $5 bet that happened months ago and didn’t impact the outcome of that event. This hypothetical assumes that the athletic department would actually somehow find out about the sports betting, too.
The changes that need to be made are obvious, both to align with reality and to make policies that actually protect the business interests of NCAA-member institutions. The “dumberest” thing, however, is that the NCAA can’t do the obvious as long as it clings to its chattel economy.
College sports’ chattel economy makes it the “dumberest” yet again
College sports have once again sacrificed what is actually best for them to preserve their economy in which athletic directors get seven-figure salaries and American football coaches get access to private jet charters while athletes can’t feed themselves. Adding insult to injury, those athletic directors and coaches are stealing money that rightfully belongs to the athletes to fund those perks and salaries.
Once more, this would be a non-issue if not for the greed of the people controlling college sports.
In other sports leagues that don’t selectively pretend athletes are amateurs, there are collective bargaining agreements in which athletes and other workers necessary to the sport consent to leagues enforcing rules on myriad facets of their conduct. That includes gambling activity.
In those situations, workers essentially say to the leagues, “these are the rules. We agree they are the rules. If we break them, we agree to these disciplinary measures.” There’s actual power to enforce the policies and the policies are realistic.
NCAA-member institutions could do the same thing. In order to do that, though, they’d have to give up the charade of treating athletes as mere students when it’s convenient and employees when it’s convenient. The greed of the people who don’t want to give up their seven-figure salaries and car services has erected a wall there.
The NCAA’s policies on gambling are a classic example of the folly of the belief that if someone else gets something, that means you have less. As long as college sports are run by people paralyzed by the fear of having less for themselves, policies will continue to make the actions of people like Bohannon not look so dumb in comparison.