NCAA March Madness won’t be happening this year, but it’s still one of the biggest events in sports. Over the course of nearly half a month, 68 teams compete for a national championship, thrilling fans all over the country. While many of the people who watch are fans of the teams involved, many just like to watch basketball. Even more like to wager on the games themselves.
As sports gambling becomes accepted in more parts of the country, bets on March Madness are sure to grow in size. But why is it that the NCAA is seemingly still not ready to embrace gambling on March Madness?
Why sports gambling is on the rise in the U.S.
In May of 2018, the United States Supreme Court made a decision that has since reverberated across the sports world. In a 6-3 decision, the Court ruled against the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Passed into law in 1992, it disallowed the majority of state-authorized sports gambling. The only state where a person could legally bet on a game was Nevada.
The decision left it up to each individual state to decide whether they wanted to legalize sports gambling. Justice Samuel Alito said as much in a statement following the decision:
“The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the constitution. PASPA is not.”
The popularity of March Madness betting
NCAA March Madness is one of sports’ most popular events. It takes place over the course of several weekends with a flurry of games happening at a lightning-fast pace. That’s an attractive option for people who like to gamble on sports. With the high number of games and speed with which they happen, it’s like Christmas come early for enthusiastic sports bettors.
Whether it’s people filling out brackets or betting on single games, gambling on the NCAA Tournament is a huge profit center in the sports betting world. According to one WalletHub estimate, there was $8.5 billion dollars wagered on March Madness in 2019. There was an estimated $3.9 billion wagered illegally.
Why the NCAA is still not ready to embrace gambling on March Madness
ESPN reported that 2020 would have been the first time NCAA March Madness was held in states with legal sports betting markets. Despite this development, before the tournament’s cancellation, the NCAA had no plans to integrate gambling data into the March Madness broadcasts.
This shows a lack of willingness to move forward with gambling as an accepted part of the event — many networks have implemented gambling terminology into their coverage of professional sports.
According to the ESPN piece, the NCAA is against all sports betting because it is not in the best interest of its student-athletes. NCAA director of communications Stacey Osburn elaborated on why they don’t see sports gambling as a great partner for their event:
“As part of its ongoing efforts to protect the integrity of competitions, the NCAA monitors sports wagering both domestically and in the global betting market. This includes pregame and in-game monitoring of regular and postseason competition, enhanced monitoring of officials and periodic risk assessments of all competition.”
The bottom line is that the NCAA still views gambling as a potential threat to the integrity of their sport — they’re worried student-athletes or administrators from the schools will compromise the outcome due to gambling involvement.
Their ability to embrace gambling will come sooner rather than later, however — it’s an inevitability due to how intertwined the event is with sports betting already.