SEC puts emphasis on gambling after college sports roiled by multiple wagering scandals
By RALPH D. RUSSO
DESTIN, Fla. (AP) When it comes to sports wagering, information is a commodity and even a morsel of news that is not widely available can be valuable.
As college sports experiences some of the negative consequences of ubiquitous legal betting on sporting events, could more transparency be among the potential safeguards?
“If everybody’s giving an injury report, I have no problem giving an injury report,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said this week. “They do it in the NFL. I was in the NFL. That’s not a huge deal as long as it’s a level playing field.”
A month highlighted by gambling-related firings and potential NCAA infractions in college sports motivated the Southeastern Conference to put extra emphasis on the issue at this week's spring meetings.
Commissioner Greg Sankey called on U.S. Integrity, a company that works with professional sports leagues and college conferences - including the SEC since 2018 - to monitor events for gambling improprieties, to give multiple presentations to SEC coaches and administrators on Wednesday and Thursday.
That was a late add to the agenda, Sankey said.
“We now have the issues emerging as it's become inculturated,” he said. “We don’t have a choice but to pay a high level of attention.”
At Alabama, baseball coach Brad Bohannon was fired during an investigation by gaming officials in Ohio of suspicious bets on the Tide’s game against LSU in late April.
Bohannon was in contact with a Indiana man who was betting on the game at a sportsbook located at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
The Tide’s starting pitcher was a late scratch because of an injury in that game.
“What we have done is we’ve reported to the proper people, and anything that we need to do to help cooperate and support those investigations we’ve done and will continue to do whatever we’re asked,” Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne said Wednesday.
The same Indiana man, Bert Neff of Mooresville, is also at the center of an investigation by the University of Cincinnati that led to two members of the baseball staff being fired earlier this month.
Conference leaders talk a lot about educating athletes and reinforcing the NCAA's stringent rules against betting on most sports. An athlete that gambles on a sport the NCAA sponsors - at any level from college to professional - risks their eligibility.
Sports wagering is now legal in 38 states, including Iowa, where more than 40 athletes at the universities of Iowa and Iowa State were identified in an investigation of potential illegal wagering.
“We had coaches in that meeting room that were asking questions from a betting standpoint, gambling standpoint, what’s legal, what’s not legal?” South Carolina coach Shane Beamer said. “So if we have questions about it and I have questions about it, then surely our student-athletes do as well.”
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said information can run wild on a college campus.
“The thing about college kids, they’re a lot more vulnerable than pro (players) because they’re out going to class and who they talk to in a casual conversation ... It’s easy to get something (from them),” Fisher said.
Fisher doesn't believe getting out in front of the leaks with an injury report would help much.
“Because how bad is the hamstring? How bad is the knee? Is it probable? Is it questionable?” Fisher said.
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said: “You’re going to solve a few problems and create a lot more with that.”
LSU coach Brian Kelly said he thinks about how he can tighten the circle of people in the football building who have access to the team's internal injury report.
“Our injury report goes to over 25 different people. I’m not sure that I need that to go to 25 different people. I think maybe that the injury report needs to come to the head coach and the head coach can make decisions on where that information goes to," Kelly said.
Sankey said an injury report is not coming anytime soon in the SEC, nor does it address the vast potential problems of wide-spread, legalized gambling.
He said increased gambling activity has led athletes to face more scrutiny and criticism - even threats - online when they don't perform well.
“I told our football coaches that the simple solution of ‘we want an injury report’ is not what I’m going to think about,” Sankey said. “But as information becomes more and more in demand because of the increases in sports gambling, we’re going to have to think about a sophisticated response to managing our information.”
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/ap-top25
Updated June 1, 2023