Atlanta—When I was a student at the University of Georgia, everybody with even a passing interest in college football knew there was a place over on Prince Avenue where you could get down a bet.
Gambling on college football has always been with us but now it is going to be legal in all of the states that eventually choose to make it so. Gambling on college sports will be coming out of the shadows and, for better or worse, become more socially acceptable. Those who run college athletics have to decide what, if anything, should change because of this new dynamic.
First, the basics.
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Education and transparency have to be at the forefront of any effort to address this issue. Everyone in the organization has to understand exactly how the system works because, sooner or later, someone will try to pump/bribe/extort them for information. Transparency is essential in a new world like this because the more schools try to hide information the more the gamblers will thrive because they WILL eventually get it.
But here is one thing that is NOT going to happen. We’re not going to have NFL-style injury reports in college football.
During the season each NFL team is required to submit a weekly injury report which gives the game status for each player. The categories are: Out (will not play), Doubtful (unlikely to play), and Questionable (uncertain if player will play.)
In addition, each player's injury must be reported “with a reasonable degree of specificity in terms that are meaningful to coaches, other club officials, the media and the public.”
Teams lying on injury reports are subject to fines and possible loss of draft choices.
Such detailed injury reports are not going to happen in college football and SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said as much last week during media days in Atlanta. Sankey said he discussed the issue with his coaches at the spring meetings in Destin last May.
“It’s clear that the nature of any so-called injury report around college sports will have very different dynamics than are present at the professional level,” Sankey said.
It’s simple, really. College football is different than the NFL because it is played under the umbrella of an educational institution and those institutions are subject to federal privacy laws. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations, for example, expressly prohibit schools from releasing health-related information on all students—not just athletes—without permission from the student.
FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) prohibits schools from releasing information about a student’s education records.
The NFL is able to release injury information because it has collectively bargained for that right with the Player’s Association.
Now all college football players could sign a waiver allowing their schools to release their health information. I don’t see that happening.
Instead of an injury list, I believe what we will end up with will be an “Availability List.” That means a player is either available for the game or he’s not. No reason would be given for the lack of availability. This complies with federal regulations but gives the sport the transparency it needs in a new world.
“I don’t believe this has to happen before the 2018 season, either on the part of this conference or the national level,” said Sankey. “I expect, however, the change in sports gambling could be and will be the likely impetus for the creation of such reports in our future.”
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has already contacted the NCAA about a nationwide policy on this issue. He, too, doesn’t see a report listing injuries.
“I don’t call it an injury report as much as I think about it as player availability,” he said at Big Ten Media Days on Monday. “Whether that comes out of an injury or whether it comes out of some transgression of one kind or another, I think we need to do that.”
ACC Commissioner John Swofford, whose conference has had an injury report (conference games only) for several seasons (but won’t do it this season), wonders if one will be necessary to protect doctors, managers, trainers, from “people you don’t really want” coming around the program. Swofford also believes that the list should include those who have been suspended for various reasons.
Coaches, for the most part, will be against any form of this. Many of them have long played this cat and mouse game about player injury or availability hoping to get a competitive edge. Coaches also have a legitimate concern that information about injuries could make a player more vulnerable. Example: A guy plays but the injury report reveals he is nursing a bad knee. If I'm that guy I don't want my opponent to know where I'm hurting.
That's another reason why we'll have an "availability" list instead of an injury list. The coaches will fight for no change at all but they will lose.
No one really knows how the growth of legalized gambling is going to affect college football, if at all. My sense is that there won’t be that much change. As Nick Saban said on Paul Finbaum’s show: “People have always bet on games. They just called their bookie. Now they won’t have to.”
But what I do know is that when faced with the uncertainty of change, it’s a pretty good policy to become more transparent instead of less.