Groucho Marx, in the 1933 classic film “Duck Soup,” had a musical number where he sang about what the people of Freedonia could expect from “The Laws of My Administration.”
Specifically, “I will not stand for anything that’s crooked or unfair. I’m always on the up-and-up so everyone beware, if any man’s caught taking graft and I don’t get my share, we stand ’em up against the wall and pop goes the weasel.”
And in a 2018 world often riddled with the absurdity of a Marx Brothers movie, plenty of member schools are singing that tune to the NCAA on the subject of the enormous revenues about to be generated from nationwide legalized sports betting once football season comes around.
The NCAA, of course, remains firmly opposed to legalized gambling, convinced that down that road lies Major League Baseball’s Black Sox scandal or the college ranks’ own CCNY point-shaving incident, or possibly the rampant match-fixing that rocked Italian soccer to its core a few years ago.
In the NCAA’s mind, every player is Shoeless Joe Jackson and every referee is Tim Donaghy.
The Supreme Court opened the door to this debate in May when it ruled the federal ban on state-sponsored sports betting was unconstitutional, essentially issuing a blanket you-have-a-point to the 49 states all saying “what about Nevada?”
NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy issued a statement about the gold rush beyond the Silver State.
“While we certainly respect the Supreme Court’s decision, our position on sports wagering remains,” Remy said. “With this new landscape, we must evolve and expand our long-standing efforts to protect both the integrity of competitions and the well-being of student-athletes.”
Which is where schools come in.
They want an “integrity fee,” essentially a bit of extra vigorish placed on the casino industry whereupon 0.25 percent of the handle — which runs into the billions of dollars in Nevada alone each year, where college sports wagering has been legal for decades and where March Madness especially provides the push for publicly-held casino corporations to hit their first-quarter earnings targets — gets put into a fund and distributed to the teams.
West Virginia and Marshall, the Mountaineer State’s two Division I programs, pushed for just such a fee in their state, and so far it appears that these sorts of taxes, regulated as they are by state gaming control boards and legislatures, will have to be enacted on a state-by-state basis.
“The fee would help us with additional resources for us to do what we need to do to deal with this whole process,” Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick told ESPN on Wednesday.
Hamrick used to be the athletic director at Nevada-Las Vegas.
Which, in turn, does bring up a point. Nevada’s two Division I universities — the University of Nevada and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas — have done just fine for years in a state where not only is sports betting legal, but students at the school older than 21 can bet on the sports games they then attend with student tickets. Asking the state to tax the casinos would get the colleges laughed out of the room in five seconds.
If schools want a cut of casino action, they’ll have to get it the old fashioned way; UNLV has a sponsorship deal with the William Hill sports book.
No state currently has plans to share any of the take with the pro sports leagues or the universities, except indirectly in the latter case where casinos pay state income tax and that money gets used to fund the schools.
And it’s not like keeping sports betting illegal has done anything to curb bad behavior from gambling; in the past 25 years, there have been no less than five cases where point-shaving made its way into the news.
But any time there’s money to be made, there are grifters who want a piece of the take.
Trouble is, the same argument that made sports betting legal — “What about Nevada?” — is the one that will ultimately be used to submarine these “integrity fee” proposals.
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