With Legalized Sports Betting, Calls for College Injury Reports Equal Athlete Exploitation
In 2001, after Penn State quarterback Zack Mills got hurt at Illinois, there was uncertainty as to whether he would play the next game. I was the quarterback coach at the time and our staff wanted to keep our next opponent, Indiana, in the dark guessing whether he would be healthy enough to play.
That meant keeping information from bookies and members of the media as well. So we put a gag order on that information. The next Saturday when Mills did not play, even members of my own family were surprised.
That is how it should work.
Fast forward to 2018 and the U.S. Supreme Court has opened the floodgates to nationwide legalized sports gambling. The court’s decision has changed the dynamics of college sports. While illegal gambling has always been around, discussing point spreads was, at one time, an off-limits topic for some of the media covering college sports.
In recent years that taboo has eased. Even ESPN’s College Gameday pregame show features an expert offering opinions on betting lines. As each conference has had their summer media days for college football, gambling has been a hot topic. One aspect has involved requiring teams to issue injury/availability player reports.
For years, the NFL has required teams to issue injury reports with a wink and a nod to the gambling industry that gives fans a financial stake in the outcomes of NFL games. Now, at the same time sports gambling is legalizing nationally, a number of college athletic directors and conference commissioners have stated a desire to require teams to issue reports like the NFL. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney didn’t even try to hide the reason: “…the availability of personnel is critical to people who are interested in gambling legally or illegally.”
While many see this as an invasion of players’ privacy and a further exploitation of student-athletes, there is an argument to be made.
Without injury reports, there will continue to be shady people looking for information, hanging around campus and paying students to get injury information on their fellow students who play big-time football or basketball.
Here’s a scenario: Imagine Penn State’s Trace McSorley leaves limping in the late third quarter of a blowout game at Illinois and does not return. The next Saturday, Penn State hosts Ohio State and his playing status would be of particular interest to not only those gambling, but also those who set the betting lines. How valuable would it be to a gambler to know that the quarterback was riding a motorized scooter?
Everyone associated with the team is a target because they have valuable information. From coaches to teammates to medical staff and student managers they all are seeing things at practice that make their access to information valuable and a commodity with real monetary value.
Releasing the injury reports erases the threat that people will talk for money and damage the integrity of the game.
That is one side of the argument… and there are at least two sides to this story.
As for the temptation of a program’s personnel to talk about injuries, a coach should hire people he can trust to keep his program’s information private and eliminate anyone who breaches that trust.
Of greater importance legally, injury reports tiptoe along the line of HIPPA laws requiring medical personnel to keep everyone’s health information confidential. Will schools be required to disclose someone’s injury or even mental health issues? Even if a player is simply listed as “unavailable” the reasons will leak out. Those public disclosures become accessible to potential employers — most notably the NFL.
From an ethical standpoint, as sports books all over the country start taking action on college sports, it will be another example of money being made on the performance of college athletes. Injury and availability information has a value to the people in that industry, a value directly derived from the student-athletes.
So if the gambling industry and the football conferences want schools to release injuries, players should resist and at least ask for part of the action. The conferences should get an “information tax” on every wager on their games with a share of that money pool given to every player upon graduation from college.
There is no arguing that the money being wagered on college athletes is a direct result of their labor. There is also no arguing that injury information belongs to and is the property of the student-athletes. So a payment, even one that is deferred, is warranted if conferences are going to compel schools to give that information away at the expense of players’ privacy.
But in reality the likely outcome will be that schools will issue reports, the gambling industry will be happy, legalized wagering will skyrocket, interest in college football will trend upward after falling recently and the student-athletes will see none of the financial windfall.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.