By JACKSON WALSH
KENNESAW, Ga. — An athlete’s participation in fantasy leagues and pools could spell trouble if it constitutes a violation of the NCAA gambling policy.
This legislation binds athletes and those who work for them in collegiate athletic departments. Examples include coaches, athletic directors, academic tutors for athletics and anyone working under the insignia of a collegiate sports team. Due to the cultural impact that the games have had in recent years, some who are new to working for athletics might not understand or see the harm in participating.
Fantasy football’s popularity, for example, is rampant among fans of the fall sport, so much so that it has become part of the allure of football itself.
Every year during the NFL season, hundreds upon thousands of leagues both public and private are organized for money, trophies, prizes, bragging rights or just another way to get into statistics. Lineups are set based on who is the highest scoring or most popular football player — based on position and performance.
This type of statistics-based competition centered around the NFL or other professional leagues could be seen as adjacent from a college student’s career in that choosing professional players a level above them does not necessarily impact the games they play or their overall status as an athlete.
Since the point game affects the pros and not necessarily college games, one could interpret the game as merely competing for points on Sunday games.
However, putting money into the ring could set up disciplinary action — quite possibly being removed from their team. On the subject of whether it is gambling or a violation, the NCAA says that yes, participation in such games is classified under their definition of sports wagering.
The Internet Gambling Prohibition and Enforcement Act of 2006, classified fantasy sports as a game of skill and not a form of gambling. Many athletes and coaches could be and have gotten tripped up on the two definitions while some not thinking that it is classified as gambling.
Narrowing the scope, the policy states prohibition on all sports wagering that “has the potential to undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardizes the welfare of students athletes.”
“Risk plus reward equals a violation, so, if it costs money to do, it is not permissible” said Heath Senour, associate athletics director for compliance at Kennesaw State University. “If there’s no risk on the front end, it does not meet the definition of gambling.”
Many examples of those involved in athletics getting penalized for gambling exist, forcing immediate action. Such accounts include Washington’s Rick Neuheisel in 2003, who was fired after winning $20,000 in a March Madness pool and Stevin “Hedake” Smith at Arizona State in 1994 who was not drafted by the NBA after being involved in point-shaving to pay off a debt to a bookmaker, or “bookie,” who made money off his fulfilled vow not to win games by a certain amount of points so as not to cover a spread.
The risks are high, and precautions are taken to save athletic careers.
The policy does not rule out all forms of placing bets on games. The rule is enforced wherever there is both a collegiate and a professional equivalent to the event in question, making it illegal to place bets on the most popular team sports.
The rule is not enforced for betting on horse races, poker or any related sport or game without this connection. Since no money is involved in many cases, the rule is also not enforced on merely playing fantasy sports for fun in the many public or private no-fee leagues and free March Madness brackets.
Even with wager-free fantasy football being allowed, athletes are forewarned well ahead of time about the danger of violating this policy. They are educated and encouraged to stay away all together.
Christian Harris, a former linebacker at both the University of Tennessee and Grand Valley State, said he and his fellow athletes were sternly taught the rules and the consequences thereof on many occasions.
“It would be at team meetings, where speakers would come in and say, ‘Hey, don’t bet on it’” Harris said. “There were a mass amount of speakers, athletic directors and coaches cracking down on the rules.”
Taylor Henkle, current defensive lineman of the Kennesaw State Owls, confirms this statement, saying that his team had to attend mandatory meetings.
“Every year, we would start with a compliance meeting,” said Henkle. “The compliance guy would come in and lay the baseline of what we can and cannot do. Usually, it’s about once a year before the school year starts with freshman coming in, and, of course, the returners come in, and we listen to them.”
A series of Regional Rules Seminars are conducted two times at two different sites annually. The seminars run for three days and are an NCAA legislation for all three divisions.
It is due to the effort of those in the athletic association and the way they have enforced their stance on gambling that made it well known to the players not to place anything under the table when it came to wagering on a game.
As of late, those in the athletic association makes sure their athletes know how the rules work.
One of the recent attempts to slow down the illegal gambling is the league getting ESPN to remove the spread numbers from its website so the lines to bet are unknown.
There has even been a campaign launched titled “Don’t Bet On It” to educate those who aren’t informed. Information is found on the campaign’s website, which offers an in-depth explanation of the policy, enforcement and the infraction process for Division I, II and III athletics.
It points out that not only can gambling put student athletes at risk by threatening the game’s integrity, but is also risking an athlete’s health and well-being.
The NCAA will survey students this year as part of their gambling study that has taken place every four years since 2004.