(Photo courtesy of Bristol Press)
You might have heard that the state of New Jersey (through the persistence of former governor Chris Christie) was given the green light to pursue fully legal sports betting for all major professional sports and NCAA-sanctioned events this morning. This is significant because the drama of this sensitive topic has been no less than a 6-year old battle which saw New Jersey lose both at the state and federal level, only to see an overwhelming majority of the sitting justices of the high court side with the Garden State. This may sound like something irrelevant but this decision will shape not just gambling, but it will reshape college hoops– as well as further limit the NCAA’s stranglehold and influence on the college world.
Before we get to the quick points– you probably need a dumbed down version of what’s happened, right? Ok, so 25 years ago, the major sports leagues and the NCAA successfully pushed then-President George H.W. Bush which essentially determined that sports betting would be completely illegal unless it was done in the state of Nevada, which the law would then be enacted by Congress directly, so the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was signed into law. Christie sought to break Nevada’s stranglehold on sports betting and pushed to bring additional income and revenue to the Garden State instead especially with its abundance of race tracks and of course, its Atlantic City moneymakers. The majority of state residents agreed and the Sports Wagering Act was boldly signed into law by Christie in 2012. Despite the state and then federal courts shooting down the new law, Christie persisted in his defiance of the rule (especially since everyone else seems to agree with him) and appealed to the highest courts instead, where a majority consensus ruled in New Jersey’s favor– clearing a path to a modified version of the sports betting that Nevada already does. And that’s not all– the ruling determines that PASPA is unconstitutional– so any of the other 49 states can now participate in sports betting if it choses (there are already 6 or so States that confirmed it will quickly create legistation to immediately start legalized sports betting). If you think that all this only means is that New Jersey residents will be able to legally bet on athletic matches and competitions– think again. The landmark ruling now ends any debate of casual and diehard fans’ ability to bet on any game of their liking, whether in person, online or even with the use of mobile devices. That’s just the tip of the iceberg though as this ruling clears the path of essentially anyone in the state being able to bet on matches and competitions– especially student athletes.
The core focus for not just college basketball players, but college athletes as a whole is that student athletes will not assert more power over the NCAA as athletes will now be able to bet on themselves and their teams. If you recall, the NCAA has a strict policy on amateurism (as vague, inconsistent and hypocritical as it may be), so the idea of a college athlete making a bet is discouraged as it would put the said college athlete at risk to lose his/her eligibility. This is especially true because of the possibility of corruption or fixed games/matches– which could affect an athlete, team and conferences. With the Supreme Court’s ruling, your favorite college basketball star, quarterback, pitcher, etc. will be able to walk into their neighborhood gambling spot and make a bet on themselves (team) and sport as a whole. How the NCAA determines amateurism now is a point of interest now because the courts now said the NCAA cannot regulate gambling– essentially meaning that the courts (and Christie… and college athletes as a whole) gave it a big middle finger.
Folks make no mistake about this– the Supreme Court’s decision now gives college athletes more autonomy and power, weakens the NCAA and sets the stage for what could be a completely new definition of amateurism and even a new governing body (run by the Power 5 conferences). At the very least, we should see more relaxed rules, starting with athletes placing bets. This is no joke– we are about to see the NCAA quickly shift towards being on the same stage as the major professional leagues, which is something that student athletes (past and present) have been arguing for anyways.