ESPN has discovered the wide, wide world of sports gambling and the people running college football ain’t too happy about it.
“I don’t think those are things that ought to be a part of the presentation of college football, but maybe that’s the environment in which we find ourselves,” said Big 12 Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby, adding that he was “quite sure that all of (the Big 12’s presidents and athletic directors) feel as I do that it’s inappropriate.”
So what are they gonna do about it?
About what you’d expect.
Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne, while noting his athletic department’s sponsorship deals with local casinos (which do not have sports books), said he’s concerned.
“Anytime there’s anything to do with sports gambling and college sports, understandably that will be something I would hope at some point will be discussed,” Byrne said.
Now there’s a guy who’s going to bring to real gravitas to the conversation.
“There is an existing concern about the inexorable march toward gambling being more and more central to sport,” Sankey told USA TODAY Sports. “It has clearly gotten more momentum based on messaging out of the NBA last year. We have to be mindful of the realities of the culture developing around us.”
Translation: at some point in time, it’s gonna become a source of revenue the SEC can’t ignore. And it’ll likely come from something like this:
Though it appears on the surface to be unrelated, several athletic directors connected the apparent new emphasis on sports betting with ESPN’s business relationships with companies like DraftKings and FanDuel, daily online fantasy sports businesses that promise cash prizes to winners. Last spring, according to multiple reports, ESPN’s parent company, Walt Disney Co., agreed to invest $250 million in DraftKings, but then backed out, apparently because of concerns that the enterprise too closely resembled gambling. Although the deal never came to fruition, DraftKings is spending several hundred million dollars in advertising over the next two years with ESPN, according to Sports Business Journal.
Although the bulk of the fantasy sports business — traditional or the daily version — has been centered on professional sports, college football is a growing portion of the business. The idea that fantasy sports would use college players’ names and performances to determine winners and payouts concerns athletic directors. Among other reasons, they’re concerned college athletes might be enticed to play the daily games — perhaps choosing themselves.
“We’ve been wrestling with all the issues around DraftKings and FanDuel,” Bowlsby said, “which I don’t think anybody can suggest isn’t gambling.”
But that’s exactly what ESPN and businesses like DraftKings and FanDuel suggest. Bowlsby noted that the Big 12’s TV contracts prohibit advertisements for gambling, other than for state-authorized lotteries, “but our television partners assert that it (fantasy sports games) isn’t gambling.”
After they cut that first check to your conference, you will too, Bob. Bet on it.