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Sports betting: Itch to fix games, shave points grows for college athletes

In the event Florida legislators decide to tip the scale in favor of sports betting in 2019, here are the potential good, bad and ugly consequences.

The Supreme Court made history last week when it decided that the federal government did not have the authority to regulate or prohibit sports betting through the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 and that any action to do so was unconstitutional. The power now rests in the hands of state officials to legalize gambling on sports at both the professional and collegiate levels.

This decision is extremely worrying and has the potential to harshly affect the well-being of NCAA student-athletes across our country. These athletes may find themselves targets of increased external pressure to fix outcomes or pass along private team information to gambling organizations operating in their respective states. We know from history that collegiate athletics programs can be easy targets for local bookies and that the NCAA is no stranger to dealing with issues of game fixing. It is important to have the perspective that this recent decision to grant states free rein over sports betting may substantially increase this external pressure for student-athletes to give in to gambling-related crime.

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Since the point-shaving disaster involving The City College of New York in the early 1950s, the underground market of sports gambling has disparately impacted our nation's student-athletes when compared to those playing professionally. This is a direct result of the substantial increases in professional player salaries and endorsement deals. In the 21st century, professional athletes have enough of a financial cushion that protects them from becoming reasonable targets for fixing scandals.

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Student-athletes, on the other hand, continue to be the main targets for gambling crime. Since the 1950s, we have seen young people at prestigious educational institutions such as Tulane, Kentucky, Boston College, Northwestern, Arizona State, University of San Diego and Toledo face criminal convictions because of point-shaving scandals. In present day, many of these individuals are already voicing their frustrations with the lack of compensation as their names and likenesses are used to drive massive amounts of revenue for the NCAA. This public display of dissatisfaction, paired with the upcoming growth in state-sponsored sports gambling, can be the perfect storm to create this generation's first gambling disaster in collegiate sports. The risks for student-athletes do not stop at game fixing and point shaving. As mentioned in my 2006 book, "New Game Plan for College Sport," research from the 2003 National Study of Collegiate Sports Wagering and Associated Health Risks found that over one-third of male student-athletes engaged in some type of sports-wagering behavior in the past year. The book also mentioned that the three main contributing factors to the growth of collegiate sports betting were increases in the acceptance of gambling, access to point spreads, access to sports handicappers and internet gambling.

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Now, in 2018, these pressures have clearly grown. When I was writing my book, the massive surge in daily fantasy sites such as DraftKings and FanDuel had not even occurred yet. These sites make it even easier for student-athletes to gain access to potential career-ending activities. If student-athletes already feel taken advantage of and revenue opportunities like securing a part-time job would render them ineligible for competition, they may try to participate in online gambling or daily fantasy in an attempt make money on the side.

Ultimately, student-athletes may find themselves in trouble with the NCAA and face ineligibility sanctions that range from a one-year ban to the permanent loss of eligibility in all sports.

I ask that our state leaders take note of the incredible ethical issues behind this recent decision to make sports betting legal and familiarize themselves with the inherent risks to student-athlete well-being. We cannot continue to put our nation's student-athletes at risk and need to act to ensure their safety throughout this new venture.

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Correction: An earlier version of this commentary identified the wrong California university in a point-shaving scandal. It should have stated the school was the University of San Diego.

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