Cashing In On Collegiate Sports?
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (“PASPA”) in the case of Murphy, Governor of New Jersey, et. al. v. National Collegiate Athletic Assn, et. al. For more than 25 years, PASPA had prohibited all but a handful of grandfathered states from authorizing and sponsoring sports gambling within their jurisdictions. The Court, however, found that the federal statute ran counter to the U.S. Constitution’s Tenth Amendment anti-commandeering doctrine, thus paving the way for more widespread legalized sports betting throughout the country. In fact, a handful of states, anticipating this week’s judicial outcome, had already enacted legislation in support of sports wagering, and at least a couple of dozen more are estimated to do so within the next five years.
Interestingly, several of the defendant parties in Murphy, and long-time backers of PASPA, have seemingly done an about-face, and are now very much in cahoots with state legislatures and others seeking to institutionalize sports gambling. Under the guise of enhanced fan engagement, the NBA, MLB and other professional sports leagues have turned into advocates of the previously reviled enterprise. But make no mistake about it, the leagues’ overriding interest is profit-based in nature; they have suggested taking a one percent “royalty” off the top of each bet – estimated to result in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue – for the privilege of using their respective content. And, even if their avowed rationale for supporting sports wagering has some logic, is this really the kind of engagement that we want our leagues to foster among their fan bases and throughout society at large?
Then there is the NCAA, which has so far limited itself to issuing this rather bland statement in response to the landmark ruling: “While we are still reviewing the decision to understand the overall implications to college sports, we will adjust sports wagering and championship policies to align with the direction from the court.” The NCAA has long been a steadfast opponent of all forms of legal and illegal sports betting. It currently has a policy which prohibits the staging of NCAA events in jurisdictions that authorize or sponsor sports gambling. The NCAA also is deeply rooted in the concept of amateurism, an ideal already under attack by many constituencies and likely to come under increasing pressure in the aftermath of the Murphy decision – indeed, the more money at play, the more difficult it will be to withstand calls for the sharing thereof.
The Court’s ruling should further concern the NCAA from an integrity and student-athlete well-being perspective. NCAA member institutions have not been immune to the perverse influence of sports gambling – point-shaving scandals, for example, have been well-chronicled, even among otherwise reputable schools like Boston College and Northwestern University. Making the enterprise more accessible and pervasive can only serve to exacerbate those types of incidents across college campuses, not to mention increase the costs to be borne by programs to ensure compliance and integrity. Last, but certainly not least, gambling, and specifically sports gambling, is considered by many a professional to have an addictive potential. The NCAA’s own Chief Medical Officer has deemed it to be “a medical concern.” Instead of seeking to help effectively address such disease, facilitating access to sports wagering, as many state governments now intend to do, will simply enable the sort of behavior that all too often ends in financial, emotional and medical ruin – a result directly at odds with upholding student-athlete well-being as a primary tenet underlying the NCAA mission.
To be sure, there is still much to be sorted out in the wake of this momentous decision. Members of Congress have already begun to work on crafting federal legislation designed to provide an overarching framework for sports gambling in this country. And yet, the fact that something is, or will be, legally permissible does not necessarily mean that it should be embraced, promoted or even accepted. It is thus incumbent upon the NCAA to stand firm in the face of the wave of momentum towards sports wagering fueled by the Murphy ruling. It must leverage its assets and continue its advocacy to shield the Association from the potential perils to be ushered in by legalized sports gambling and that ultimately pose a threat to its very own raison d’être. Otherwise, NCAA member institution will need to start preparing for the dawn of this new day, and the host of amateurism, compliance and well-being challenges brought about by the same.