Josh Kendall

What does legalized sports gambling mean for SEC? Everyone wants to know

The prospect of sports gambling becoming legal in some states has administrators and coaches in the Southeastern Conference wondering what it might mean for their league and how they can protect the integrity of their games.
The prospect of sports gambling becoming legal in some states has administrators and coaches in the Southeastern Conference wondering what it might mean for their league and how they can protect the integrity of their games. USA TODAY Sports

No one at the SEC’s annual spring meetings knows what the Supreme Court’s recent ruling regarding sports gambling means for college sports. But everybody is talking about it.

“Every meeting in which I have appeared, there’s a very clear conversation about the centrality of integrity around our competitions,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said. “I don’t think that we’re looking to embrace it. Right now, it’s understand it.”

The Supreme Court struck down a federal statute earlier this year that had forbidden gambling on sports everywhere except Nevada. With that restriction lifted, states will now be able to legalize sports gambling if they choose, but even SEC states that are eager to welcome it — such as Mississippi — will take at least months to work out the details of it.

“I think each state is going to have their own approach,” Alabama athletics director Greg Byrne said. “In Alabama, that’s not something that’s a prominent part of what we’re doing, but we’re certainly watching it. I know next door in Mississippi, there have been a lot of discussions about it.”

South Carolina isn’t expected to be on the forefront of the movement to adopt legalized sports gambling.

“There are about 20 states ready with legislation to put in place,” John Grady, an assistant professor of sports entertainment management at the University of South Carolina, told The State in May. “The first states to do it will be more embracing of gambling. South Carolina will wait and see how they do.”

The wait-and-see approach is fine with Gamecocks football coach Will Muschamp.

“It’s really early in the process as far as that is concerned, for me, so I’m not going to have much comment on it,” he said.

Asked if he was worried that legalized sports gambling would lead some fans to question his late-game decisions that affected the point spread, Muschamp joked, “They are usually (mad) anyway.”

South Carolina Gamecocks football coach Will Muschamp talks South Carolina's offense, the expectations for the 2018 class' enrollment and the Supreme Court gambling ruling.

Several coaches and administrators made quips about the possible change. Tennessee athletics director Philip Fulmer said he might wonder if friends asking questions he thought were too detailed for looking for a wagering edge.

“I had some concerns about people around the program (in the past),” Fulmer said. “You always have to have your antennas up when it comes to that.”

Asked if a potential change would make college football coaches “more paranoid,” Sankey replied, “More?”

The idea of people looking to affect the outcome or point spread of games for gambling purposes is no laughing matter for anyone in the league, though.

“You just worry about the integrity of our game, from players to coaches to officials, everything,” Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari said. “That’s the only thing I would worry about.”

Sankey pointed out that policing a college football team would be much tougher than policing an NFL team. While a professional team has a 53-player roster and is mostly confined to a private practice facility, college teams have rosters that are twice the size plus armies of support staff that include students and low-paid staffers. College players also interact with students and professors across campus on a daily basis, increasing the access to them by people who might want to affect games.

“There are many more touchpoints around college sports than there are around professional athletes,” Sankey said.

One possible outcome of a change in gambling legality could be that the SEC or NCAA mandates coaches make public injury reports during the week. The NFL has long had public injury reports as a way to discourage gamblers from trying to find information not available to others.

“We haven’t discussed it yet. I’m guessing we will at some point,” Byrne said.

There’s also the possibility that some of the money to be made on sports gambling could find its way to the SEC or NCAA. Not many people wanted to talk about that this week, but nobody ruled it out.

“We have to look at ourselves and say what is the best path for us to protect the integrity first and foremost,” Byrne said.