The NCAA recently released a new interpretation on the sale of official data to sports betting companies. In short, the NCAA decided to allow any individual, school, or conference to provide information to sports betting company suppliers, provided the information is available to the general public.
After you get past the first question of who has been providing NCAA data to sportsbooks for the last four years (or the last 25 years for that matter,) you might ask why would someone pay for this? Both of these are good questions and this article does not propose an answer to either.
Instead, this article takes exception to yet another NCAA cash grab while the organization sits on its hands doing little (if anything) to deal with the realities of legal and illegal sports betting.
What did NCAA do on official data?
On April 27, the NCAA released revised guidance regarding the sale of data. The new “interpretation,” which appears limited to Division I athletics, states:
The NCAA Division I Interpretations Committee determined the legislation precluding an individual, institution or conference from providing information for sports wagering purposes does not apply to competition statistics compiled by, or with the permission of, the institution, provided that information is available to the general public.
As a result, it is permissible for an individual, institution or conference subject to the sports wagering activities legislation to provide such information to individuals or companies involved in or associated with sports wagering activities. It is not permissible to provide information that is not available to the general public.
The announcement follows (yes, follows) the news earlier in March that the Mid-American Conference signed a data deal with gambling data distributor Genius Sports. According to the Genius Sports press release, the deal will also include some level of integrity education put on for MAC players and staff.
Scorekeeping an integrity concern?
Who is your favorite college team’s official scorekeeper?
If you are a fan of professional sports and watch enough games, you might know your official scorer’s actual name. But if you are a fan of college sports, it might not even be the same person every night.
In fact, it could be an unpaid college student, someone interning in the sports information office, a low-level employee, or a graduate student earning a stipend that might or might not reach four figures for the semester.
According to a 2012 The New York Times article official MLB scorers earned $150 per game. Perhaps some schools pay their official scorers around that much or perhaps even more, but it seems unlikely that many do.
Ignorance is bliss
For years and still to this day, the NCAA has been staunchly opposed to gambling; whether legal, illegal or anywhere in-between, it is all bad. The organization continues to maintain that gambling is bad, but seems to recognize that there is money to be made out there.
For years, there have been scorekeeping errors in college games that have resulted in bad beats. To be fair, this happens at the professional level too. Who could forget the vanishing made free-throw in December’s game between Illinois State and Chicago State, which saw Illinois State fail to cover the 9.5-point spread, by a half-point.
Of course, most sportsbooks took the opportunity to generate some goodwill and pay the bettors, but that was an era when NCAA official data was not for sale. And the handle on Chicago State versus Illinois State is not exactly Duke versus North Carolina.
According to a story written by ESPN,, there was a breakdown in procedure among the various team scorekeepers and the official scorekeeper in the December incident. It is easy to deny responsibility when you oppose the use of statistics for gambling purposes, but it becomes a different story if you are a profiteer.
Sports statistics have always been important. Screwups have always been costly, but until recently leagues could argue that they lacked privity with data users, sportsbooks and bettors.
However, times have changed. And as sports organizations become vendors of official data that they know will result in millions of dollars moving one way or another, what responsibilities do they have to make sure data is accurate? Inaccurate data is going to be worse than worthless, it will cost sportsbooks money. Sports organizations need to be responsible for accurate data.
Integrity matters too
While it is fantastic that the MAC is going to receive some integrity training as part of their data deal, the NCAA as a whole is lagging behind in modernizing its gambling education programs.
Gambling is here, it is legal in more than half the country, and the time has long passed to start patching the integrity deficiencies. Step one should be education for players and staff, but step two should be professionalizing the role of scorers, making that position less vulnerable to someone who wants to corrupt a game.
What’s next on NCAA official data?
The deals are inevitably going to keep coming.
Mark Emmert is on his way out as NCAA president. As the organization is struggling to stay above water as some of its member institutions float the idea of breaking off with its most valuable assets, the organization does not have a lot of sway anymore.
Free cash is hard to turn down. But the NCAA could still do good by making moves to modernize its sports betting education program for all athletes and athletic department employees.
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