Standardized injury reports face hurdles as college football adapts to new sports gambling laws
Kent Syverud is just starting to realize the magnitude of the task ahead.
Syracuse’s president is chair of an NCAA committee charged with asking nearly every school in the country to reveal its deepest, darkest athletic secrets. That is, providing accurate, reliable injury information about its athletes.
“We are specifically charged with looking at the issue of player availability reporting,” Syverud told CBS Sports this week, “and that’s just one aspect of it.”
Nine months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can legalize sports gambling, the NCAA seems to have quietly taken over the duty of closing what some consider a giant loophole in legitimizing the college games on which you wager.
Syverud is chair of the 13-member NCAA Board of Governors Ad Hoc Committee on Sports Wagering charged, for now, to work with schools to develop weekly injury reports.
It’s never been much of an issue before. But with the Supreme Court decision in May 2018, the lack of mandatory injury reports in college athletics quickly became a huge concern.
“Paying players, paying sources of information, paying trainers — [with injury reports] you insulate yourself from that,” said Tom McMillen, president and CEO of Lead1 Association, which represents FBS athletic directors. “That’s why the Security and Exchange Commission put in very tough insider trading laws. It will destroy the integrity of your market if you don’t.”
Gambling experts will tell you that legal sports betting cannot succeed nationally without college injury reports similar to those in the NFL.
Now comes the hard part: Convincing hundreds of NCAA schools to share their injury information.
“How is the world going to change if this is not done?” Syverud wondered.
One answer has been apparent for a while. With unregulated, illegal sports gambling, college sports has faced at least one major point-shaving scandal every decade since the 1940s.
Last year, CBS Sports broke down.
“The last thing you want is a gambling scandal at universities. It’s a very ripe area for abuse,” McMillen said.
A uniform injury report, those advocates say, will keep unsavory types from obtaining injury information by back channels, thus impacting the legitimacy of the games themselves.
“The injury report, in my opinion, is great in theory but doesn’t change a ton of what goes on other than helping the sportsbooks protect themselves,” said Todd Fuhrman, gaming analyst for SportsLine, a CBS Sports brand.
That’s a good place to start. If there isn’t faith in the legitimacy of the games themselves, everybody loses.
Syverud’s committee was formed in October 2018. It has never met in person. It will for the first time in March and may have recommendations by May. It is already feeling pressure.
“I would say it is something we are acutely aware of so far,” Syverud said. “Change is coming whether we like it or not.”
Legal sports gambling in the U.S. means a heightened sense of quality control. There are eight states that have legalized sports gambling. Arkansas, Oregon and Washington, D.C. have passed laws that have not been implemented yet. Twenty-one other states have legislation pending, according to the American Gaming Association.
“[The NCAA acts] as if sports betting has not been here,” said Sara Slane, the AGA’s senior vice president of public affairs. “It’s been in the illegal market where there is no transparency. Obviously, amateur athletes are not being paid. The feeling is they are most susceptible to being on the take.”
The complications are massive. That’s why the results of the NCAA Football Data Task Force are considered key next week when officials from around the country meet in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The NCAA Football Oversight Committee is expected to consider injury reports when it meets next in April.
There are federal privacy issues to consider. The longstanding Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) states athletes have to consent to their injury information being released publicly. Perhaps that’s why a large number of schools have still not submitted injury information to an ongoing NCAA injury study.
“When I say, ‘not all schools,’ a majority were not [cooperating],” said Steve Shaw, secretary-editor of the NCAA rules committee. “We got a little better participation this year, but it’s not anywhere near 100 percent.”
Then there are the coaches — some of whom casually release injury information. Some, like Washington State’s Mike Leach, are dead set against talking about injuries.
“Whatever weaknesses or vulnerabilities that we have as a team, I can’t possibly fathom why I would have an interest in revealing that to my opponent,” Leach told USA Today last year.
“That’s the right question, of course,” Syverud said.
The Big Ten last year asked the NCAA to consider developing a national football injury report. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith advocated a “modified version” of the weekly NFL injury report (designations of probable, doubtful or out).
NFL teams are required to release three practice participation reports during the week. Also, NFL teams are mandated to provide a game status report on Friday (for Sunday games) and in-game injury reports. Broadcast partners commonly use those in-game reports.
Bettors act accordingly, except now wagering is increasingly legal and above board. When the Big Ten athletic directors met this week, they remained in support of a standardized injury report.
“We have to be more transparent,” Smith said last year.
Getting used to the new gambling landscape continues to be awkward at times. Some schools at first pushed for an “integrity fee” from casinos in order to hire more compliance staff to monitor athletes’ activity.
Except those casinos and sportsbooks are in no mood to share their profits with universities. In fact, the world’s leading sportsbooks are consideredt.
Schools in Mississippi have been successful in lobbying sportsbooks in the state not to take “prop bets.” Those are individual bets that have to do with singular outcomes, such as whether a team’s first play of the game will be a run or pass, whether a team will rush for over/under 149.5 yards in a game, or whether a quarterback will throw for more than two touchdowns.
Ole Miss AD Ross Bjork said his coach, Matt Luke, made it a habit from the beginning of his tenure to give a Monday injury update.
“When the gaming piece came into play, we said, ‘Hey, let’s keep that going,'” Bjork said. “You eliminate people going behind the scenes to get info. Be transparent about it, instead of people saying, ‘Hey, what’s the quarterback up to? Is he wearing a boot?'”
NCAA president Mark Emmert addressed the situation at last month’s national convention.
“Sports wagering is going to have a dramatic impact on everything we do in college sports,” Emmert said. “It’s going to threaten the integrity of college sports in many ways unless we are willing to act boldly and strongly.”
The NCAA was a plaintiff in a lawsuit fighting implementation of New Jersey’s sports gambling law. The Supreme Court decided in New Jersey’s favor, opening the doors to the new gambling landscape.
“There are a lot of folks who are in denial that the Supreme Court can change the rules,” Syverud said. “A lot is changing very fast. The question is how fast everyone can adapt.”
That ad hoc committee coincidentally includes two members of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee — Iowa AD Gary Barta and Robert Morris president Chris Howard. Also included is Rachel Baker, Kentucky’s executive associate AD, and a former director of the NCAA’s agent, gambling and amateurism division. (That division no longer exists.)
No matter what the law states, the NCAA continues to oppose all forms of legal and illegal wagering. Before each academic year, athletes are required to sign a statement they have not been involved in any “organized gambling activities.” Failure to do so renders the athlete eligible. Bylaw 10.4 states that any athlete caught gambling will be ruled permanently ineligible.
However, a 2012 NCAA study found that 68 percent of male athletes thought of sports wagering as a “harmless pastime.”
In May 2018, the NCAA suspended its ban on placing championships in states that offer sports wagering. It was either that or the NCAA might run out of places to stage its championships. Such is the climate in the country.
“The risk doesn’t go away [with legalized sports gambling],” McMillen said. “It just has to be managed — ferociously.”