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UNC sports and the Supreme Court’s sports betting decision

Monday’s 7-2 decision could mean more to UNC than you’d think.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Rice Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

In 2011, I got the chance to go to Las Vegas around the start of the NCAA Tournament. It was the season that Kendall Marshall took over as the starting point guard early in the ACC Season, and Carolina was getting 8-1 odds to take down the title. I couldn’t resist, thrilled with how the Tar Heels had been playing since Marshall took over.

It was my first bet because while I had been to Vegas a couple of times before, the timing had never worked to where I could lay down a sports bet I would enjoy. Plus, when you spend your whole life on the east coast, it’s not like it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to go out to Nevada just to lay down money. To hammer this point home, the next year, a friend was out in Vegas, and knowing I wouldn’t make it out there in the near future and that Carolina was a real favorite to take it all that year, I asked him to make that bet for me.

2012 was the last future bet I’ve put on Carolina. You’re welcome.

On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a rare non-5-4 decision that struck down the the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). The law tried to thread a needle that kept sports betting legal in states that had them, and outlawed them in others. The reason it took so long for a challenge? With social attitudes on gambling, it took states a while to come around to the idea that the law was poorly written. Once the floodgates opened and states realized they could easily open casinos in their borders, it was only a matter of time before someone would challenge that idea that one state could have a monopoly on it. In fact, even the two dissenting justices seemed to agree the law was poor but would have preferred a more measured cut.

Now, other places have details on what this means for sports betting in general and in the state that you are reading this. I’d highly recommend Michael McCann over at SI as he does great job of distilling legalese to where a sports fan can understand.

What does this mean for UNC, though?

Another Revenue Stream

In true NCAA fashion, the top result will be that the schools will likely have a way to get more money to their athletic departments on the backs of the athletes who play the games.

The NCAA can take a couple of courses with this. One course could be to continue to be the moral police, stand firm in the fact that they sued to stop the spread of gambling because it could exacerbate point shaving throughout their sports, and toughen rules against gambling in the sport.

What’s more likely, though, is the NCAA and its member schools will realize there’s money to be made for athletic departments that struggle to break even. The first thought is how the NCAA has embraced what has made March so popular: the brackets. It’s on the courts in the first and second rounds, the Final Four sites are decorated with them, and they even have a ceremony now where the winning team advances themselves on the bracket. Why are brackets so popular? Because millions of people fill them out “for free” and they want to see how they turned out.

Thus, the logical next step is for the NCAA to put its stamp on a casino’s bracket pool. As casinos now are built by multi-national corporations with locations all over, there will likely be some good bidding for one of those casinos with locations all over to host an official bracket pool. Now, instead of taking Carolina at 8-1 to win, you get a sheet from the casino, make your picks, and the best “picker” wins. If you think a casino won’t pay through the nose to have the NCAA’s official branding that would be advertised for the months leading up and during the tournament, then might I suggest you calm down, take a drink from your Powerade cup, call your friend on the AT&T phone, enjoy a slice from Pizza Hut, and reconsider.

The money from such a deal would likely be included in the pool that goes to the schools based on how the conference does in the tournament, and that isn’t the only source. If you think schools would turn their nose up at making a deal with casinos for advertising and revenue on every bet made on their school, then might I point you to the Las Vegas Invitational location that Carolina will be playing in? In fact, what if MGM decides to sign a school to make sure than any tournament played at a casino is only in their walls? What if the SEC decides to have “the official sports book of the Southeast Conference?”

Football isn’t excluded from this. There’s an annual Super Contest over at the Westgate that lets people plunk down $10,000 and pick five NFL games a week. Best picker after 17 weeks against the line wins top prize. Which conference would be first to partner with a casino in their geographic footprint to run a similar contest for their season? Did I mention that Massachusetts is about to open casinos from both the Wynn and MGM corporations? A co-branded deal that causes a casino to be a “corporate champion” of the conference is more money that goes back to the schools.

Think that’s too ridiculous? The North Carolina “Education” Lottery already has advertised at all the schools in the ACC. Is it really a stretch to think they’d take the money from a sports betting establishment where at least some skill is involved?

Won’t Someone Think of the Children?

It’s hard not to think about the fact that all of this money would come from the work of kids who don’t have a union to make sure they get a share of the money made. It isn’t anything new, mind you, but it’s another thing that puts a spotlight on just how much colleges get out of these athletes for the price of the scholarship.

That thought leads to another: more places to bet on a game could lead to more scandals involving games not being played on the up and up. What’s to stop a kid, or even a referee who is only a part-time employee, from looking at a line and realizing they very easily could make a quick score on some random game in December?

The answer, to some extent, is that nothing is stopping them from doing that now. If you’ve made a sports bet anytime before now, was it at one of those awesome casinos in Vegas? I’m guessing for a lot of you it was with someone you knew, or kind of knew, and didn’t advertise on the Internet that “sports bookie” was their profession. It’s also possible you used the Internet to go to one of the numerous off-shore sites that found a way to bounce your money in about three or four different ways so you could place the best on the Gatorade being Orange at this past Super Bowl.

A regulated market means that if someone lays a ridiculous amount of money on a game, flags are going to go off and it’ll be tougher for someone to get away with fixing the result. The mere fact that they will have to go to a place where their face will be recorded entering will help ease that chance, although nothing stops one of their friends from going in their place.

The bigger question will be if the NCAA will allow their student athletes to get a bigger benefit of the revenues these new bets will create. As the calls to pay them grow louder, it feels like the NCAA has to come to some sort of arrangement, or it increases the chance those athletes will find a way to make it creating a bigger headache for the beleaguered association. On a UNC level, it may not matter so much until the state decides if it wants to embrace sports gambling. But if the NCAA relaxes their standards a little, and Carolina has to go up against schools where kids are allowed to place bets on themselves or their teams, then it could just add another hurdle in the fight to get the best athletes to Chapel Hill.

How You Watch

Expect to start hearing more about the lines during the broadcasts.

As you may be aware, cable and broadcast networks keep losing viewers to cord cutters and numerous streaming options. The ability to integrate gambling talk into broadcasts will act as a shot in the arm to these networks to keep people watching their product on the screen. The fact is, if you have money on a game, you’re more likely to watch it happen rather than try to follow along on social media. Networks will know this, and will start to cater to that broadcast.

ESPN, especially, has to be relishing the possibilities this decision brings with a new network starting next year. When you have two networks devoted solely to a collegiate conference, that means you have to fill programing holes somehow. Someone, somewhere, will realize that both conferences have very popular teams that people like to bet on, and some sort of programing catering to betting is bound to happen. It also could prove a shot in the arm for the network as every sports parlor is going to have to have access to this network for people to watch as they bet on their game.

The effects will not be instantaneous. Only a few states right now even have bills ready to go, and it takes time to set up a business that can be regulated, monitored, and pass muster to accept bets. Much like how just about every state has a lottery or a casino now, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before you can walk a few blocks down and place that future bet on Carolina instead of having to book a flight out west.

Just don’t expect me to do it. I learned my lesson in 2012.