Editorial: NCAA's Betting Attitude Shows US-UK Differences

3 March 2003

Cultural differences are a part of our world.

An everyday occurrence in one part of the world might be seen as criminal or downright repulsive in another part. You can imagine the befuddlement, then, by non-Americans as to why the National Collegiate Athletics Association, the governing body of college sports in the United States, has such an aversion to sports betting.

Of course, the NCAA isn't alone on this issue in America. Professional sports leagues of all sorts go out of their way to distance themselves from gamblers and any casino or sports betting entity, unless of course you are the WNBA.

The evidence for America's disdain for sports betting is personified in Pete Rose.

Rose is the most prolific hitter in baseball history. Although Rose managed to amass 4,256 hits while winning the hearts of fans everywhere playing America's favorite pastime, he has been shunned by the Hall of Fame because of his public past of betting on all kinds of sporting events. Rose very well might have bet on, and against, his team later in his career while he was a manger, an accusation that certainly brings doubts about his validity in the hall.

Regardless of whether Rose should be in the hall or not, his story says more about a culture's view towards odds, money lines and over-unders. Compare the American view to that of our U.K. brethren.

A fan has to look no further than the English Premiere League to see the different approaches. Not only is the EPL England's highest level of football, it is arguably the world's most popular league. Games are televised all over Asia and South America and players are imported from every football-playing nation.

In the EPL, though, teams aren't encouraged to distance themselves from sports betting entities; in fact, it is just the opposite. Many clubs have "official bookmakers" who are allowed to place advertisements around the pitch and in the stadiums where the teams play. One club, Fulham United, even has the world's leading betting exchange, Betfair.com, emblazoned across the front of its jerseys.

All clubs, even the venerable Manchester United, get large fees from companies who want to put their logo their jerseys, and as more and more leagues worldwide look at ways to increase revenue, the idea has been tossed about in the United States as well.

But the day the New York Yankees come out of the dugout for a game with BetOnSports.com on any part of their uniform is unlikely to ever happen in the United States.

There is something to be said for the United Kingdom’s, and to a larger extent Europe's, attitude toward sports betting.

In the United Kingdom, betting shops line street corners and putting a pound or two on your favorite team is as much a part of the culture as filling out a March Madness bracket is in the United States.

The U.K. attitude toward betting is favorable to the U.S. view because the openness creates far fewer reasons for criminals to use illegal gambling activity for their own personal gain. If the U.S. had the same attitude, announcements like the one last week from the NCAA wouldn’t be needed.

The NCAA announced last week it is launching a new Web site and is teaming with Sportsline.com to produce it. The deal was finalized only after Sportsline.com agreed to sell of some of the gaming-related businesses it owns.

In explaining the deal to reporters, NCAA President Myles Brand and officials with CBS Sports, which owns more than 30 percent of Sportsline.com, repeatedly talked about how glad they are to rid themselves of the betting association.

However, many people argue that the rise in popularity of the men’s basketball tournament is largely due to the sports betting industry.

Punters flock to sports books, many of which are on the Internet, in March as 64 of the top teams vie for the title in a three-week blitzkrieg of hoops and betting action.

Of course, the NCAA has reason to cast a disparaging glance at the betting industry.

Point shaving scandals have dotted the collegiate sports landscape throughout the years. In 1919 baseball saw its coveted World Series compromised as members of the Chicago White Sox accepted cash to throw games so a crime boss could make a mint on his sports bets.

As schools continue to make millions of their players, and coaches get paid in line with, and sometimes even more than their contemporaries in the professional ranks, it might be time for the NCAA to reconsider its stance on gambling.

Maybe it should be asking, "Why would a collegiate athlete be involved in point shaving in the first place?" Or, "What can we do to keep the allure of easy money from outweighing the other benefits of being a student athlete?"

The NCAA will doubtless continue to deny players stipends or allow them to work part-time jobs in order to earn spending money. Denials of this sort are part of what makes betting alluring to college athletes.

The NCAA will also continue its anti-gambling campaign, "Sports, Don't Bet on it," in which athletes are shown videos and given lectures on the importance of staying from any gambling activity.

Meanwhile, EPL clubs will be wining and dining neighborhood betting shop owners to convince them to come on board as the official bookmaker of their club and will gladly cash the bookmakers’ checks to offset rising payroll and other expenses.

Cultural differences will always remain. It is a shame it has to be that way.

Nobody knows where Kevin Smith came from. He simply showed up one day and started writing articles for IGN. We liked him, so we decided to keep him. We think you'll like him too. Kevin can be reached at kevin@igamingnews.com.