Student athletes and gambling has been a topic of personal interest since the late 1990's when long-time friend and University of Michigan compliance director Ann Vollano and I teamed up to author a ground-breaking study of student-athlete gambling behaviors. The concerns that our research revealed in 1999 about the potential for gambling to undermine the integrity of college sports continue to persist 15 years later.
Since the 1950's, numerous intercollegiate athletes have performed at less than their best or colluded with others to manipulate the outcomes of contests. These situations involve "match fixing" where the participants purposely lose a contest or "point shaving" where one or more participants play to win, but by an amount less than the point spread of a particular contest. There are numerous examples of this manipulation, primarily in the sport of basketball, throughout the past seven decades, including:
- across seven schools in basketball, CCNY, LIU, NYU, Manhattan, Kentucky, Bradley and Toledo in the early 1950's;
- Boston College basketball in the 1970s;
- Tulane, which dropped its basketball program over point shaving in the 1980's;
- the 1990's at Northwestern over gambling in both football and basketball;
- basketball at Arizona State (also in the 1990's); and
- Toledo basketball in 2004-05.
As a stand-alone activity, I do not believe Daily Fantasy Sports erode the integrity of intercollegiate athletics. A student-athlete in the sport of fencing spending $5 on a professional football fantasy team simply does not challenge the legitimacy of either college football or fencing.
But DFS participants are susceptible to the always prevalent "slippery slope" and it is in this area that the integrity concerns are legitimate. Just as there are "gateway drugs" - providing entry to other more addictive forms of drug use, there can be "gateway wagering." Student-athletes don't stumble across point shaving and match fixing opportunities randomly. These situations develop because the student-athlete (or an official) is seeking a quick payout or is in deep debt to someone who threatens their career over those debts and related gambling activities.
The sums of money that can be wagered and won playing DFS are significant enough to attract criminal activity. Further, gambling is an addictive activity for some people that we know can lead to financial problems. People chase losses with larger sums to get out of debt or to get the same rush from the activity that they got at lower amounts. When the losses get too big, people are open to manipulation.
While the slippery slope is hypothetical, one look at the earlier list of point shaving scandals makes concern over gambling very real. Attempting to educate about the nuances between permissible and impermissible sports related gambling is nearly impossible across hundreds of thousands of athletes, hence the NCAA's zero tolerance stance regarding sports-related gambling. While Daily Fantasy Sports doesn't in and of itself erode sports integrity, it provides entry into numerous activities that absolutely can erode the integrity of college sports, making their prohibition for student-athletes, officials and staff the proper stance.
What do you think? Do Daily Fantasy Sports erode the integrity of college sports? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
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