NCAA President Stresses Student-Athlete Safety as Sports Betting Continues to Expand


NCAA President Charlie Baker used his “State of College Sports” address at the NCAA Convention in Phoenix this week to highlight the ongoing critical importance of protecting student-athletes against rogue sports bettors.

NCAA Charlie Baker sports betting
NCAA President Charlie Baker delivers his “State of College Sports” address on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024. Baker says the organization is committed to protecting players from sports betting influences. (Image: NCAA)

Sports betting is legal in almost 40 states. While Baker has acknowledged that the expansion of regulated sportsbooks in the US has been beneficial for collegiate sports, the former Massachusetts governor who signed the state’s sports betting bill into law says the organization must continue to implement player protections.

Sports betting is basically everywhere, especially on campuses. And the harm it can cause is real,” Baker said. “Every conversation about the team, the competition, and the health and well-being of their teammates is not just chatter anymore, but currency for some and inside information for others.”

Baker revealed the NCAA is working with the NFL to develop a program to better educate coaches and student-athletes on the challenges posed by sports betting. Baker said he’s also reaching out to his former gubernatorial colleagues to make sure states have adequate laws to protect student-athletes from harassment.

Online Abuse in Focus

The NCAA last month contracted the Signify Group to leverage the company’s Threat Matrix tool to study, detect, and respond to online abuse and threats made against players, coaches, and officials. Threat Matrix uses artificial intelligence to monitor social media channels, including X, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, for abuse and threats in over 35 languages.

A recent NCAA poll of campus administrators found that 10% of Division I respondents said they were aware of student-athletes being harassed online or in person by someone with sports betting interests.

“Engaging Signify to monitor NCAA championships reflects our resolute commitment to college athlete safety and well-being,” Baker said last month. “This is a first-of-its-kind project in college sports focusing on online abuse and threats while arming social platforms and law enforcement to take action to protect thousands of student-athletes and all championship participants.”

Tennis’ global governing organizations announced a similar partnership with Threat Matrix in December. Since a tennis player can singlehandedly throw a match, tennis’ governing bodies say the sport is ripe with rogue bettors seeking to tempt a player to fix a game through harassment and threats made via the internet.

Sports Betting Increases Engagement

Baker said sports betting has overall been good for the NCAA and the collegiate sports it sanctions. The NCAA president beamed when presenting metrics showing how sports betting has helped increase fan engagement.

The NCAA in 2023 gained over a million new followers on its social platforms, which created four billion impressions and 263 million engagements. Those numbers are more than doubled from 2022.

Baker highlighted the exceptional growth in women’s sports, specifically women’s basketball and volleyball. The president said the NCAA’s most recent media deal with ESPN, which was over three times richer for the NCAA than the same deal it struck with the sports media conglomerate 14 years ago, will allow the organization to begin considering revenue distribution units for women’s basketball teams that participate in March Madness.

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