Sports Gambling in College: Cracking Down on Illegal Betting

By Saum, William S. | USA TODAY, July 1999 | Go to article overview

Sports Gambling in College: Cracking Down on Illegal Betting


Saum, William S., USA TODAY


Without strong efforts to enforce state and Federal laws prohibiting illegal sports wagering, the integrity of college athletics may be at stake.

IT'S SATURDAY AFTERNOON, and you are settled in a comfortable chair watching your favorite college basketball team play a conference foe. One of your team's better players has missed a few shots early in the second half and the team is down by 10. They eventually lose by 16. You are disappointed, but don't think much more about it.

However, what if that player purposely had held back on a few shots, was a half-step slow on defense that day, and later that evening received an envelope with a few thousand dollars in it because his team, an underdog in the game, had lost by more than the posted betting spread? That scenario played out at Northwestern University a few years ago, and two former players and several others involved in the point-shaving scheme are paying the price. They were indicted, met with more law enforcement officials than they ever dreamed possible, and were sentenced to jail terms. Their lives are nothing like the promise their college careers once held, all because of gambling--more specifically, illegal sports wagering that led to point shaving.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), formed in 1906, is a nonprofit, voluntary association of more than 1,200 colleges, universities, conferences, and organizations charged with the administration of intercollegiate athletics. The membership is divided into three legislative and competitive divisions, and the NCAA annually sponsors 81 national championships in 22 sports.

In September, 1996, the NCAA assigned a staff member to look into gambling and agent issues on a full-time basis. The NCAA believes there is a very high incidence of illegal sports wagering among college students. It is safe to say that student bookies are present at every college and university, and there is no dispute that the impact of sports gambling is being felt on campuses across the country.

An NCAA-sponsored study completed by the University of Cincinnati uncovered alarming results. Of 2,000 male student-athletes in Division I basketball and football programs surveyed about NCAA rules violations, 25% reported that they gambled on college sports events other than their own while in college. Four percent admitted that they wagered on games in which they had played, and three of the athletes said they changed the outcome of the game in which they participated.

In a separate 1998 study involving approximately 1,000 students at universities in the Southeastern Conference, results revealed that athletes were nearly twice as likely to be problem gamblers than non-athletes. Student-athletes are not the only undergraduates with gambling problems. Several researchers who surveyed 1,700 students from six colleges and universities found that 33% of the males and 15% of the females gambled once a week or more. Research by Howard Shaffer of the Harvard University Medical School Division on Addiction shows that more youth are introduced to gambling through sports betting than through any other form of gambling activity.

These are frightening statistics for the NCAA. Sports wagering conflicts with its responsibility to preserve the integrity of competition and the positive image of college sports, so the NCAA is taking a lead role to legislate, educate, and raise awareness about college athletes and sports wagering.

The profile of the typical college student who gambles is someone who believes he has control of his own destiny, takes risks, and feels he possesses the skill to be successful in this endeavor. Ironically, these are many of the same qualities of successful college athletes and may explain why some are drawn to sports gambling.

"Sports wagering has the potential to undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardize the eligibility of student-athletes, and we will do everything we can to send the message that sports wagering has no place in college sports," indicates Cedric W.

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