Friday, October 2, 2015

Daily Fantasy Sports and Intercollegiate Athletics - Part 1 - Are Daily Fantasy Sports Gambling?

The explosion of Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS), fueled by industry leaders DraftKings and FanDuel, has become a hot topic within intercollegiate athletic circles prompting significant questions and areas of debate.  Is it or isn't it gambling?  Does it erode the integrity of college sports?  Could it effect student attendance at events?  Could DFS be a solution to athletic department budget concerns? What does the future look like regarding the issue? 

This is the first in a series of articles addressing each of these questions.  In this installment, addresses the question "Are Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) gambling?" 

It isn't hard to develop a coherent argument on either side of this topic.  The answer depends on who you want to view as the controlling legal authority.  DFS website Rotogrinders provides a clear and simple overview of the issue from a legal standpoint, based around the 2006 passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).  

The UIEGA specifically carved out an exemption around fantasy sports, albeit at a time when the activity was far less popular and less automated via computer. It was intended to avoid turning stat obsessed "fantasy geeks," college fraternities and sports junkies into criminals.  But the law of unintended consequences is an amazing thing and some entrepreneurial people exploited a loophole to establish a multi-billion dollar industry seemingly overnight.  

The legal language that makes DFS permissible (outlined in the above referenced link) is well thought-out and DFS fits each of the criteria that make it legal in most places.  

The NCAA has quickly taken a position on the matter consistent with its previous stances regarding sports related gambling. The Association unequivocally considers Daily Fantasy Sports to be gambling and has a zero tolerance approach to the activity.  As such, student athletes and athletic department staff members are prohibited from engaging in the activity if they have to pay any type of entry fee to participate and if it involves a sport that the NCAA sponsors.  

So, are Daily Fantasy Sports gambling?  The simple answer is yes, especially when you define it using a more relevant term, "wagering" - simply defined as betting on the outcome of an external event(s) - in this case the aggregated results of a number of external individual performances.  But it is a legal form of wagering in many places due to the UIEGA.  If you are considering engaging in the activity, ask before you act, and check with your NCAA compliance coordinator and/or attorney.  Failure to get proper guidance about what is and isn't permissible is definitely a gamble that can put athletic eligibility or a career at risk. 

What do you think?  Is Daily Fantasy Sports Gambling? Share your thoughts in the comments section. 

Next: Do daily fantasy sports erode the integrity of college sports?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Athletics budget update #68

Here are some budgetary odds and ends from around college athletics.

The Wall Street Journal reviews consideration by Michigan State about expanding their club sports model and speculates about new competitive models if their experiment is successful - "over time, if the university is able to beef up the profile of its club programs, the idea, of removing sports from the roster of NCAA programs might not be so painful for the players and prospective recruits, particularly if more schools followed suit."  The rationale for the moves and consideration is driven largely by financial concerns.  No comments from student athletes and staff who might be moved to a different model were provided to substantiate the speculation.

UNC Wilmington has achieved a budget surplus amidst on-going concerns that some sports may be at risk of being cut.

UW Oshkosh is dropping its men's soccer program and its student athletes had a unique protest.

Cal State athletic budgets have improved in the past few years, but needs still exist according to an article at

Eastern Illinois University President David Glassman cut another $320,000 from athletics and changed the Univeristy organizational chart so that the athletics department can now report to him directly rather than student affairs.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Athletic budget update #67

Here is the latest budget news from around intercollegiate athletics:

Knox College (DIII) announced it is dropping its wresting program.

Yeshiva University also dropped their wrestling program.

North Carolina Central (DI) considered dropping its women's bowling team and adding women's golf, a move that was endorsed by its trustees.

Akron dropped their baseball team as part of $60 million in institution-wide cuts.  And then announced it would provide cost of attendance stipends to all athletes, with the total cost similar to the savings from the elimination of baseball.

Here is an in-depth review of the subsidies that are provided to the seven Division I schools in Louisiana. contrasts the celebration from Temple's football victory this past weekend with the emotions of the teams that were cut by the school in 2013.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Are fines further evidence of student athletes as employees?

The recent revelations that Virginia Tech and Cincinnati considered reducing cost of attendance stipends for violations of team or department rules has brought significant media discussion that "fines" are further evidence student athletes are essentially employees.

Ultimate Sports Insider has previously described  the amateur vs. professional debate as a distraction from a more important topic - the education of student athletes.

"Stipend" is the commonly used term  regarding the additional monies student athletes receive.  A stipend is defined as "a fixed and regular payment such as a salary for services rendered or an allowance."  Those who describe student athletes as employees will focus on "services rendered."  Those who view athletics as part of an educational experience will likely consider these payments similar to an "allowance."

Consider the analogy of a parent who provides an allowance to their children. There are many reasons to provide an allowance (stipend): to learn the value of money, to make personal spending decisions, to learn about saving, and/or as payment for work around the house (e.g. mowing the lawn) are some obvious examples.  All of these reasons have educational value and teach different lessons.

Withholding allowance is a common form of discipline (among many options such as grounding, no television, taking away a cell phone, etc.).  If you use allowance as payment for services, failure to do your work means you don't receive your payment, yet no one would suggest that the child is an employee if a parent made such a decision.  Other families might never withhold allowance, or only consider doing so if they believed it was the most appropriate or effective way to improve behavior.

As parents of two boys, my wife's and my personal philosophy is that withholding an allowance is not a form of discipline we have chosen because we have more effective means for discipline and because allowances for our children are not tied to work.  Our boys regularly and freely contribute to the family because all of our gifts are required for our family to be cohesive and successful.  They have a responsibility to help our collective good.

As an athletic administrator, I don't view withholding a stipend as a valuable form of discipline for the same reasons - the stipend isn't tied to work and I believe there are more effective means.  But to completely eliminate the possibility that a student athlete could ever receive a smaller stipend - especially a nominal amount that would have hardly any impact on their financial situation but would help make them have better personal discipline or advance towards graduation and a degree - is no more thoughtful than posting a series of "one-size fits-all" fines on the wall and reducing stipends without any creative thought.

Ask any coach and they will tell you that each student athlete has different personalities and motivations.  Some people are intrinsically motivated and respond to positive reinforcement and some people respond better to disciplinary approaches.  Both types of reinforcement have value when used appropriately.  To ignore this reality is doing student athletes, coaches and administrators a disservice.  Coaches frequently increase financial aid for student athletes who perform well athletically, do the right thing academically and are good teammates.  Take a minute and watch the video of Stanford, walk-on linebacker Craig Jones being awarded a scholarship in front of his entire team.  When is the last time your "employees" reacted to anything the way his teammates did?

Interestingly, no one ever suggested that awarding the previously voluntary efforts of a student athlete was now evidence that he suddenly became an employee - perhaps because it didn't fit a simplistic or predetermined narrative about college athletics.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Ultimate Sports Insider on the move

Ultimate Sports Insider is moving its home base to State College, Pennsylvania.

I've accepted a position at Penn State as Assistant AD for New Business Development effective August 24.

My family and I are very excited about the opportunity to move to such a dynamic community and become part of One Team at Penn State under the leadership of Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour and Deputy Athletic Director Phil Esten.   Here is the complete press release about the move.

Ultimate Sports Insider will continue to publish as topics and opportunities present themselves. In addition, my career guidance and executive coaching practice which accepted a number of new clients in the past few months will be continuing as well.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Survival and the concentrated mind

"When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

Samuel Johnson's quote (he's got a number of them) seems particularly appropriate in light of some of the significant budgetary challenges facing college athletics and higher education.  UAB football, Sweet Briar College and Cleveland State wrestling all faced down their mortality in the past few months, avoiding being cut or closed.  Each has emerged and will hopefully flourish in the future, serving as great examples of focusing the mind and in the process, staying alive.   

Akron Baseball is now facing the same fate and no doubt other programs will soon have similar challenges to their survival placed in front of them.

The future strength of Sweet Briar, UAB football and Cleveland State wrestling remains to be seen - perhaps they emerge stronger (indeed, "that which doesn't kill us, makes us stronger" - Friedrich Nietzsche, not Kelly Clarkson) - or perhaps these are temporary revivals where the damage from near death cannot produce sustainable rebirth.

The challenge we all face is figuring out how to have the focused mind - and perhaps more importantly, the focused supporters who are willing to contribute their time, talents and treasure to our programs - so that the threats of closing and panicked last minute appeals become unnecessary.  

There are many powerful and motivating emotions in the situations referenced above - love, hate, anger, and regret among them. But indifference provided the initial death sentence, until the perceived loss was so real that emotion emerged again to save the program.

If you were to have an in-depth conversation with your key supporters and ask them, "What would happen if our program didn't exist anymore?", what would they say?  And if you had the same conversation with potential or lapsed supporters who have been sitting on the sideline waiting for the right time to engage, what would they say?

Concentration that produces engagement, motivation and passion without the threat of hanging is a worthwhile challenge that may not seem very urgent.......until it is.