Let’s take a brief walk back to April 28 and look at a college baseball betting scandal involving a man from Indiana.
The LSU Tigers were the No. 1 team in NCAA baseball and had been all year. They were ready to host the Alabama Crimson Tide for a three-game series over the weekend. That is when a man named Bert Neff from Mooresville, 25 minutes south of Indianapolis, walked into the BetMGM Sportsbook inside the Cincinnati Reds’ Great American Ballpark and asked to place a bet on the Tigers for nearly $100,000.
Such a large bet raised suspicions. That led to an investigation that found Neff had received inside information from Alabama head coach Brad Bohannon.
Fast forward to today, and Neff finds himself banned from all Indiana sportsbooks and casinos.
Why was Neff banned?
Not all sports are created equal when it comes to money wagered. College baseball produces a lower betting volume than most others, like college and professional football.
Thus, Neff’s large wager set off alarm bells. Video surveillance confirmed he had communicated with Bohannon before the game. Neff allegedly learned that Alabama was scratching its best starting pitcher due to back tightness, putting the already-best team in the country at an even more significant advantage.
The wager, which took place in Ohio, prompted the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) to disallow any further college baseball wagers involving Alabama. The Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) received reports of similar activity from the game and followed suit, refunding any future Alabama-related bets in The Hoosier State.
Ultimately, the IGC ruled to ban Neff in his home state. Deputy Director Jenny Reske said allowing him to place wagers “would adversely affect or call into question the integrity of gambling operations.” Neff can appeal the ban.
The University of Alabama fired Bohannon immediately after the news became public.
Not an isolated incident
The University of Cincinnati opened an investigation into NCAA violations following the Alabama incident, resulting in the firing of two baseball personnel. Neff’s son, Andrew, has been on the Bearcats roster since 2022.
Head coach Scott Googins resigned two weeks after the firings of his staff members. Records show that Googins received text messages from Neff, many of which were related to sports betting. None of the texts, however, were related to college baseball betting. Neff was an active gambler, betting high dollar values on anything from football to tennis.
Neff’s attorney, Jeff Baldwin, said the texts resembled a conversation between old friends, not something Googins engaged in from a betting perspective. He also said that he didn’t believe Neff’s actions played a role in any departures from Cincinnati’s baseball staff.
According to ESPN, the IGC, OCCC and NCAA are all conducting investigations centered around Neff.
An open can of worms
Additional text records from Neff to Googins reveal an interesting message about betting on college sports, one directly opposing his actions.
“They shouldn’t not (sic) be letting people bet on college sports………kids are betting them at a rate thats (sic) disturbing and it’s going to be come out soon how widespread it is…….
“it’s a problem and it’s way beyond anything you can imagine…..no team in any sport would field a team once they are done with what they are probably doing right now……all college betting needs to be halted immediately!!!”
Numerous players have come under fire for breaking the rules around sports betting. More than two dozen student-athletes from the University of Iowa and Iowa State University are suspected of violating NCAA rules and betting on sports online.
Former Iowa State defensive lineman Enyi Uwazurike, now with the Denver Broncos, faces a tampering charge and is suspended indefinitely by the NFL for wagers placed on his team during his rookie season in 2022. Colts running back Isaiah Rogers faces similar allegations.
Given sports betting’s rise in popularity and assimilation into our culture, we cannot be so naive as to think that these are the only places where student-athletes are breaking the rules. The can of worms is open, and more stories will continue to surface in the coming years.
NCAA stance is clear on sports betting
The NCAA has a strict policy against its student-athletes betting on sports. According to its website, sports betting spreads a message that is contrary to the purpose and meaning of “sport.” It has the potential to:
- Undermine the integrity of games
- Jeopardize the well-being of student-athletes and college sports as a whole
- Demean competition and competitors alike
This view vastly differs from sportsbooks, professional sports leagues and their teams, many of whom promote it and have partnerships with sportsbooks.
Many sports betting authorities, like the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States and the National Council on Problem Gambling, maintain a neutral stance on gambling. They opt to promote responsible gambling in a safe, regulated environment for those who participate.
Why is the NCAA different?
First, its athletes are, first and foremost, still students. Many are young adults who haven’t yet gained the perspective and life experience to understand the potential implications of the above bullet points.
The NCAA believes student-athletes have enough on their plates between school and sports. They have the rest of their lives to bet on sports if they want to.
Could we see a ban on college sports betting?
What’s next if we believe more NCAA student-athletes will commit sports betting violations while remembering that the NCAA considers it undermining the integrity of its games?
The NCAA has a lot of pull and can make a strong case that whatever tax revenue sports betting generates does not offset the potential harm to its student-athletes. But could it take things one step further and begin a campaign toward making college sports betting illegal?
One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch, but an outright ban on regulated sportsbooks will simply take the action underground. It will incentivize illegal bookies and offshore sites to offer lines on college games, which is even more counterproductive to the end goal.
A better solution? Continue to educate student-athletes and bettors alike, developing new and intensive material. Keep hammering it over and over again. Make the education mandatory yearly, and offer class credits for completing the courses.
Sports betting is still in its relative infancy, with many kinks left to be ironed out as the industry matures. All parties must continue to build a foundation based on education and responsible betting and stick to that process indefinitely.
If that happens, we’ll have a healthy and thriving college sports betting economy for years to come.