Today’s guest columnist is Joe Moglia, chair of athletics and executive advisor to the president at Coastal Carolina University.
It’s been more than 30 years since Pete Rose was barred from joining the National Baseball Hall of Fame for gambling on baseball—and betting on his own team—during his career as a player and manager for the Cincinnati Reds. One of the greatest baseball players of all time has been blocked from receiving his sport’s highest honor. And indeed, not only was sports betting illegal at the time, but betting on your own team puts the integrity of the game at serious risk.
While the risks to the integrity of sports remain when players and coaches bet, the broader activity—sports betting in general—is now something that millions of people do legally on a daily basis. When Rose was banned from the Hall of Fame, society had a different relationship with sports betting. Despite the fact that people were regularly placing bets with bookies, the activity was seen as illicit in all cases. The bans on sports betting, both legal and social, have gone the way of Prohibition, and for good reason. Sports betting is big business now, and nearly everyone is getting on board.
Just because sports betting is legal, however, doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to gambling’s ills. Like with alcohol, we need to be realistic about the good and bad effects of sports betting. In particular, we need to look closely at how it impacts college athletes who have been recently thrust into the world of sports business with the advent of NIL sponsorship. As I’ve written before, the NCAA dropped the ball on NIL, leaving a leadership vacuum and a system where individual schools and athletics programs are forging their own paths. The influx of money is undeniably a good thing for student athletes, but it has to come with the right education and representation to support them. For athletes, many of whom come from low-income backgrounds and are the first in their families to attend college, there’s a lot to learn. Sports betting adds another wrinkle to this.
People have been gambling on sports since there were chariot races at the Roman circus. It’s only been in relatively recently that the United States experimented with making it illegal. That didn’t stop it, of course; it just pushed it underground. Court decisions in of the past decade have made it legal once more, and with the enormous amounts of sponsorship money that have followed, leagues that were previously vehemently anti-gambling now work with the industry. This makes sense from a business perspective. For consumers, it can be a great way to have fun and enjoy sports. But for others, however, gambling can become a problem. Gambling addiction destroys lives and fortunes, just as any addiction does. This is just the ugly truth.
Collegiate athletes are adults. Now, many of them for the first time in their lives have access to large amounts of money because of new NIL deals. Athletics programs, conferences and coaches have a responsibility to educate their athletes about responsible gambling, its risks, and warning signs to look out for. For years, we’ve done something unique in the Coastal Carolina football program, which is to set aside half an hour of practice every week to just talk about subjects other than football. This is an opportunity to discuss things like personal finances, gambling, and other social and personal pressures affecting the players. These sessions work, but unfortunately, this sort of commitment to shaping the whole lives of players is unusual in collegiate athletics. It shouldn’t be.
Beyond the financial perils of prevalent and legal sports betting, of course, comes an increased risk of cheating. Cheating in this context doesn’t even mean deliberately losing a game. It can be much smaller and more insidious. Dropping a pass or missing a kick could be enough to alter the outcome of a game by a few points and affect betting payouts. For decades, this is what professional leagues worried about when they banned their players like Rose from betting on themselves or their teams. That risk hasn’t gone away, nor is it limited to the pros. Collegiate athletes will experience the same temptations to bet on themselves and the pressures to tilt outcomes.
Combating cheating is much more complicated than teaching personal finance. Inculcating a culture of personal responsibility is key, and coaches need to demonstrate to their players why their actions matter and how their choices could harm others. There also need to be clearly articulated and enforced consequences for athletes who cheat. These consequences should be applied universally throughout college sports, which will require cooperation between programs and conferences.
No Quick Fixes
Pete Rose may yet make it to the Hall of Fame. Society has made an important choice to normalize its relationship to sports gambling. This is a good thing, but we shouldn’t ignore the consequences of it, and we have an obligation to care for student athletes. Schools and athletics programs need to take the lead on teaching financial responsibility. And conference’s regulatory organizations need to take the lead on combating cheating, before it becomes a problem. Our student athletes, and the integrity of the sports they compete in, are depending on us.
Moglia is the former CEO and chairman of TD Ameritrade, and chairman of Fundamental Global Investors and Capital Wealth Advisors. In 2012, he became Coastal Carolina’s head football coach, leading the team to four conference championships and an overall record of 56-22. You can find him on his website, on his LinkedIn page and on Twitter.