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May 12, 2004

Study: Widespread Gambling Among Student-Athletes?

FROM THE INDIANAPOLIS OVERSEERS comes a seemingly misplaced overreaction to an ostensibly alarming increase of gambling among student-athletes.

Considering the full palette of challenges currently besetting the NCAA—recruiting excesses, over commercialism, grad rates, performance enhancement drugs, coach / fan misbehavior, etc.—it is remarkable that gambling would command such attention.

The impetus for the current scrutiny derives from a study commissioned by the NCAA. The study provides information from last year from 21,000 male and female student-athletes. It is entitled the National Study on Collegiate Sports Wagering and Associated Health Risks. Among the findings:

• 35% of male student-athletes bet on sports (and 10% of females).

• Percentage of male student-athletes who bet on collegiate sports: Division I-17.2%; Division II-21%; Division III-24.4%.

• Percentage of male student-athletes who admitted to wagering on any kind of sporting event: Division I-28.8%; Division II-33.5%; Division III-40.7%. Highest proportions by sport were: golf (48.6%) and ice hockey (48.4%).

• 2.3% of Division I football players and 2.1% of men's basketball players said they were asked to affect the outcome of a game because of a gambling debt.

• Percentage of student-athletes claiming to understand the rules on sports wagering: Division I-60%; Division II-50%; Division III-40%.

A cursory examination of the study could lead to the quick conclusion that there are student-athletes out there betting on sports that they are actually playing in.

But that’s not the case. What the study defines as “gambling” is actually a collection of relatively innocuous social amusements that help to while away the fleeting non-study hours. The study found that the gambling activities engaged in most frequently were:

• playing cards or board games for money

• betting on games of personal skill (pool, darts, bowling)

• lottery tickets, slot or electronic poker machines, sports cards, football pools or parlays.

These are hardly nefarious misdeeds worthy of anything more than passing interest. Especially since the study found that a low percentage of student-athletes were categorized as problem or pathological gamblers: less than 5% of males and .5% of females.

Nonetheless, NCAA president Myles Brand announced the formation of a task force to stem the growth of wagering among student-athletes. University of Notre Dame President Edward Malloy, task force chairman, said, “If the sport loses integrity, then everything becomes professional wrestling, with a predetermined outcome and diminished interest.”

Hey, lighten up fellas. We’re talking about wagering on dorm room poker games, pub dart tossing and lottery tickets here. Those are a long way from tanking games.

The task force has quite a challenge. With casinos springing up coast to coast, the proliferation of state lotteries and the Las Vegas “book” taking on unprecedented legitimacy, it would seem to be quite a stretch to shelter student-athletes from these evil influences.

Furthermore, as government-sanctioned gambling becomes increasingly widespread, the NCAA’s prohibition of this legal activity would seem to take on just a touch of hypocrisy.

(this 483 word excerpt—with accompanying commentary--was extracted from a 517 word Bloomberg News article of 5-12-04, a 348 word Associated Press article of 5-12-04, and the voluminous, multi-charted National Study on Collegiate Sports Wagering and Associated Health Risks)

The National Study on Collegiate Sports Wagering and Associated Health Risks study can be accessed on the NCAA website at: www.ncaa.org/release/research/2004/2004051201re.htm