The University Record, January 18, 1999

All bets are in: Student-athlete gambling is on the rise

By Jane R. Elgass

Seventy-two percent of student-athletes and 80 percent of male student-athletes have gambled in some way since entering college, according to the results of a national survey by the Athletic Department released Jan. 11.

The study also shows that nearly 35 percent of all student-athletes (45 percent of male student-athletes) have gambled on sports while attending college and that a considerable number of student-athletes acted in ways that call into question the integrity of their contests.

Conducted by Mike Cross and Ann Vollano of the Athletic Department Compliance Office over the past 18 months, the study surveyed Division I football and men’s and women’s basketball players. The response rate to the 3,000 mailed surveys was just over 25 percent.

The survey, “The Extent and Nature of Gambling among College Student Athletes,” was designed to determine the types of gambling activities in which student-athletes participated and the extent of their participation.

“We are extremely concerned about the effects of gambling at our universities,” said Athletic Director Tom Goss. “There has been limited research on this topic, and we hope this report provides more impetus for everyone to help control this threat to intercollegiate athletics.”

The introduction to the report notes that “the number of highly publicized gambling incidents among student-athletes . . . has increased substantially,” citing a 1966 study that showed 25 percent of NCAA Division I football and basketball players said they had bet on college sports. The U-M survey reports that more than 45 percent of male student-athletes have gambled on sports in college.

“In the past 18 months,” the report’s executive summary notes, “gambling by college student-athletes has become one of the greatest concerns among athletic administrators and coaches nationally.” Recent incidents have involved players from Arizona State University, Boston College, the University of Colorado, Northwestern University and the University of Notre Dame, among others.

Additional findings of the study:

• Casino gambling is a popular activity, with 48.2 percent of student-athletes reporting they wagered at a casino.

• Among all student-athletes, 35 percent have gambled on sports while attending college; 45 percent of male student-athletes gambled on sports.

• More than 5 percent of male student-athletes provided inside information for gambling purposes, bet on a game in which they participated, or accepted money for performing poorly in a game.

These findings, report authors noted, “are cause for concern because they directly compromise the integrity of intercollegiate sports. These findings suggest that it is increasingly likely that some intercollegiate contests are not being legitimately contested.”

• Student athletes who gamble with bookmakers are wagering substantial amounts of money. The mean amount of money wagered on a single sports bet through a bookmaker was $57.25. Student athletes who gamble on sports with bookmakers are wagering an average of $225 per month, the study shows.

The report cites additional findings the authors say “should concern athletic administrators nationwide”:

• Nearly 4 percent of male student-athletes wagered using parlay cards. “This is an important finding,” the authors note, “since parlay cards can be considered a ‘gateway’ to more direct and financially risky wagering with bookmakers.”

• More than 4 percent of male student-athletes said they bet directly with bookmakers.

• Student-athlete involvement with bookmakers “poses a serious threat to the integrity of intercollegiate sports,” with 7.1 percent of male student-athletes having placed bets with a bookmaker or having used parlay cards.

Assuming 100 football players on a team, the report states, “it is possible that seven individuals per team are engaged in illegal sports wagering,” the report states. Assuming 15 players on each men’s basketball team, “it is possible that one individual on each team is engaged in illegal sports gambling.”

• The lesser involvement in gambling by female student-athletes “should not be discounted. As media focus and professional opportunities increase, the temptations and problems that face male athletes are likely to be encountered by females.”

The report authors recommend several areas for future research:

• Survey additional football and basketball players to confirm the extent and nature of gambling. Find a way to encourage responses by male basketball players, since this group had a low response rate.

• Study all sports to gain an accurate measure of gambling behavior overall, not just in traditional revenue sports.

• Determine the level of gambling involvement among non-athlete students.

• Study coaches, administrators, referees and other game officials to determine if they are involved in gambling.

• Identify behaviors that could harm the athletic enterprise or cause administrators to look away when confronted by gambling within their teams or programs.

The authors also note that while the NCAA has recognized the problem of student-athlete gambling “and done a commendable job in addressing the issue,” additional steps are necessary. These include:

• Further education of students on the dangers of gambling.

• Further education of coaches and administrators on the prevalence of gambling by student-athletes.

• Development of a “high level of awareness and intolerance toward gambling by college student-athletes and athletic department staffs. While educators typically shun ‘zero-tolerance’ policies,” the authors noted, “failure to adhere to NCAA Bylaws regarding gambling should be met with severe consequences, including forfeiture of eligibility.”

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