Conversations happening on both state and federal levels regarding sports gambling are taking a more serious tack as bills have been introduced in the Indiana Senate and House last week. Furthermore, Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA, made waves when he called for legalizing sports betting and giving his league a 1% cut of the bets. Many seem to think nationwide sports gambling is a matter of “when” and not “if.”
If the NCAA got in on the act in a similar way to what Silver is proposing for the NBA, it could stand to make a lot of money. According to some number-crunching by Legal Sports Report, with the 1% integrity fee, the NCAA would get around $600 million annually. For the sake of perspective, the NCAA gets approximately $800 million in television rights for the MBB tournament each year. In 2011-2012, the entirety of NCAA revenue was $871.6 million. A 1% integrity fee is huge money, in the ballpark of nearly doubling NCAA revenue.
The NCAA should be wary, though, of taking money from legalized gambling at this point, even if the majority of it went back to member schools as the organization likes to point-out. Currently fighting multiple issues, from accusations of student-athlete exploitation to questions about its very necessity, it would be a mistake on a variety of fronts for the NCAA to embrace something so contentious. Already viewed by many as greedy and hypocritical, introducing another revenue stream could further the image of the rich getting richer on the backs of unpaid athletes. For critics, the optics of such a move would be horrendous, as many would balk at the amateurism of college athletics being “tainted” by the proximity of gambling, while others would undoubtedly object to more money that is not trickling down to the players themselves. Regardless of one’s personal feelings on the issue, there is little doubt incorporating gambling would spark outrage among millions of fans.
Furthermore, gambling could potentially exacerbate the very problems many see plaguing college athletics at present. Arguing that revenue generation does not take precedent over student-athlete well-being and education could be tricky if the NCAA is willing to accept gambling money but is stingy with distribution to S-As. Moreover, the overarching goal of amateurism, already considered by some to be a dubious claim by the NCAA, is strained further if gambling is introduced. Ultimately, how does adding more money to college athletics assuage concerns that money is already too powerful (and corrupting) a force on campuses?
If anything, the reactions of those conferences, colleges, and coaches that would monetarily benefit from legalized college betting should be telling. NCAA President Mark Emmert has made efforts to curtail gambling. Conference commissioners have been noncommittal at best. No high-ranking college athletics official is following Adam Silver’s lead of trailblazing this cause because of the good it will do for the league, and that says something about the perceived impact it would have among those directly involved.
There is a substantial financial windfall in play if the NCAA embraces legalized gambling. However, the costs of such a move would be substantial; from its credibility being further undermined to its preexisting problems being inflamed, the NCAA would take significant damage as a result. Is lack of revenue really the NCAA’s biggest problem right now?