How to Keep College Athletes from Sports Betting

It’s been a rough year in collegiate sports as far as sports betting scandals are concerned. Things got even worse at the beginning of this month when it was announced that seven college athletes we charged with sports betting violations, which included alleged attempts to tamper with evidence. A week later (today) news became more dire when it was uncovered that Iowa State University defensive lineman Isaiah Lee bet against his own team in a game that he played in. This is essentially the industry’s worst fear realized. It impacts the integrity of players, collegiate sports and their respective athletic programs, and sports betting operators alike.

If the problem of college athletes betting on sports persists, could we see a reversal of state-by-state decisions to legalize this form of gambling? Will the map of U.S. states with legalized sports betting begin to shrink? It’s unlikely when you consider the tax revenue that U.S. states have become accustomed to. But the job of painting a favorable picture of legal college sports betting will become much harder than it already is. Consequently, involved programs, organizations, and operators are wondering how to keep college athletes from sports betting and disrupting the integrity of it all. As America’s resource for problem gambling support Kindbridge has the required insight. Let’s review.

What Must Be Done to Put an End to College Athlete Sports Betting While Protecting the Integrity of the Game

Focus on the True Root of the Problem

In a press conference, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz discussed his concern over sports betting and the integrity of the game:

“It can’t be compromised, the integrity of the game, that’s first and foremost. That’s got to be protected, and that’s where everything should start.”

Associated Press

Ferentz got it wrong.

Instead, everything should begin with the mental and behavioral health of the athletes who are playing the game and being exposed to risk. What he and other stakeholders may not realize, is that there are underlying reasons that young adult athletes are betting in clear violation of policy.

While we’re not attempting to completely remove culpability from college athletes, we are asking stakeholders to develop an understanding that there are psychological issues along with socio-cultural factors that may make them more vulnerable to developing a problematic relationship with gambling. They may live with mental health conditions that are known to co-occur with gambling disorder, and exhibit other risk factors that are associated with an elevated vulnerability to problem gambling. In some cases, match-fixers are preying on their vulnerability. In addition, there are other factors associated with habitual gambling among college athletes, which include the following:

  • Genetics – Problem gambling tends to run in families at a higher rate than for many other behavioral and psychiatric disorders.
  • Age – Young adults have a harder time quitting gambling partly because their frontal lobe – the part of the brain responsible for decision-making – does not fully develop until the mid-20s
  • Personality – Competitive risk-takers are more disposed to developing gambling disorder.
  • Social – Peer (i.e. teammate) influence is a critical social factor.
  • Surroundings – Exposure to gambling triggers (i.e. in-stadium sports betting advertising, etc.) makes it hard to quit.

Collectively this helps explain why student-athletes “blatantly” violate policy even when the policy has been made explicitly clear (more on this below). For greater insight into why elite athletes bet on sports despite the consequences, click here.

In developing this understanding, stakeholders can collectively decide to invest in mental health support programs for their vulnerable athletes. Variations of this are already occurring in key states. For example, in Colorado, college athletes will soon be able to receive mental health support relating to sports betting concerns through the Colorado Athlete Wellbeing Program. We encourage all regulated states to contact Kindbridge to discuss customized solutions for their respective school programs. Click the banner below to initiate the conversation:

Match Fixing Betting on Athlete Mental Health Vulnerability

Ongoing Communication Regarding College Athlete Gambling Policy

In some cases, a college athlete will know that they are doing something wrong. For instance, ISU’s defensive lineman Isaiah Lee cannot plead ignorant about betting against his own team. However, there is room for interpretation in many athlete sports betting policies. For example, in the NFL there have been a wave of suspensions handed down not because players bet on their league, but because they bet on other leagues (which is allowed) online while within team facilities (which is not allowed). If NFL players who have multimillion dollar contracts at stake exhibit any lack of clarity on what is and isn’t permitted, imagine the grey area painted in a more vulnerable collegiate setting?

Moving forward, programs and institutions must revisit their existing athlete gambling policies and inspect them for loopholes and lack of clarity. Once the policies have been redefined, athletes must be re-educated on exactly what these policies entail. Communication and education should be delivered in a manner similar to a lecture hall setting, and not via a mass email or posting in the locker room. After initial re-eduction, more brief monthly follow-up communications should be ongoing to ensure that policies remains at the forefront of team discussions. More importantly, policy communications should conclude with a call-to-action for athletes to get access to safe and confidential problem gambling support, should they feel as if they may be vulnerable to gambling disorder. This access should be funded by respective school programs (and/or the state) so that athletes don’t bear the burden of expense.

Current events have spoken loud and clear. It’s time for collegiate programs and organizations to invest in athlete mental health as it pertains to problem gambling and more. Connect to Kindbridge Behavioral Health today to discuss options.

Concerned Athletic Organizations and Institutions

CALL +1 (877) 426-4258


Email [email protected]

Match Fixing Betting on Athlete Mental Health Vulnerability