The NCAA has made a step forward in their acceptance of legal sports betting. NCAA schools and conferences will now be allowed to sell official data feeds to sportsbooks, opening the door for them to generate revenue streams that were previously prohibited.
The NCAA released a memo last week explicitly allowing for schools and conferences to provide online sports betting operators with official data and statistics. The memo was a result of the Mid Atlantic Conference seeking clarification on its efforts to partner with Genius Sports. The NCAA approved of the deal, opening the door for other conferences as well as individual schools to enter into similar arrangements. To ensure integrity on all sides, any information provided to sports betting operators must also be made available to the general public.
The NCAA has long been opposed to any form of gambling, as the fact that the student athletes do not receive financial compensation for their play leads to the belief that these athletes are more susceptible to being corrupted by match fixing. The famous ASU point shaving scandal led by Stevin “Hedake” Smith further hardened their stance, providing proof that collegiate athletes can be influenced by professional gamblers and the lure of an instant payday.
The large scale finances at stake seem to have pushed the NCAA to soften their stance, at least a little bit. With the legal gambling industry exploding and schools always looking for new revenue streams, it seems natural that the NCAA would try to find a way for schools and conferences to receive a portion of the revenue. Oklahoma State assistant professor John Holden said of the new arrangement: “The NCAA has never been weaker in 100-plus years of existence. Many of its member institutions are looking for ways to raise money that does not get passed on to students and can become highly public. I don’t expect the NCAA to ever come out and say “we love gambling” or for [outgoing NCAA president] Mark Emmert to be doing Caesars commercials. But I don’t think they are going to leave money on the table moving forward.”
Live betting on games is becoming significantly more popular, and the ability for top bookmakers to have access to a real time official data feed will allow them to more accurately and efficiently assess live betting odds. The new rule also allows for officially partnered sportsbook operators to place scouts at games in person rather than being forced to scout from a television feed. This not only eliminates any delays caused by the broadcast, but also means that a professional will be assessing statistics rather than the current system that has graduate student assistants doing most of the analysis.
The advantages for live betting and other improvements for sports betting operators make this type of opportunity potentially quite lucrative for schools. Professional sports leagues like MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL all have partnership agreements to provide their official data, and those deals are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The terms of the MAC’s deal with Genius Sports are unknown, but the potential is clearly there for this to be a very lucrative revenue stream for conferences and schools.
The NCAA is long known for ensuring that students do not receive any financial compensation for participating in sporting events. Like the relationship with legalized sports betting, the NCAA has softened somewhat here as well, recently allowing student athletes to enter into endorsement deals. Student athletes might have a case to receive compensation from these data feeds as well.
The NFL has specific language in its collective bargaining agreement that ensures a portion of revenue generated from the sale of this type of data is shared among players. There is a strong case to be made that statistics tied to an individual player constitutes the use of that player’s identity. If the NCAA chooses not to voluntarily share this new revenue stream among the players, it could result in a legal battle should the student athletes decide they would like to share in the revenue their play generates.
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