ATLANTA—The NCAA and major college sports like men's basketball and football are in a precarious spot these days.
The games for the respective sports, covering late August to early April, are perpetually available for public consumption, meaning these events will always be on TV (read: exorbitant sums of money changing hands) and always generate interest in the sports-betting world.
This was true back in the pre-Internet days; and it's especially prevalent in this current age of sophisticated smartphones.
Bottom line: There's really no stopping it.
Which brings us to SEC commissioner Greg Sankey's introductory press conference at SEC Media Days on Monday.
While holding court at the College Football Hall of Fame, Sankey spoke in noticeably vague terms about the potential impact or fallout of legalized sports betting sweeping the nation.
The sample comments included:
—"Part of our education ... is we should subscribe and found that's happening around gambling. Part of the positive step with legalized gambling is there's a lot more sunshine on what is happening."
—"I think some of the state laws include expectations for communication around transparency."
Frankly speaking, what else could Sankey say, regarding such a hot-button issue?
Yes, the integrity (notice I didn't say purity) of college sports may be on the line; but right now, there are still more questions than answers about the whole process.
Crucial questions such as:
a) Charting the SEC's 14 member-schools, which of the 11 states will approve unlimited sports gambling?
b) Would these participating states subsequently work together to create a unified piece of legislation?
c) What would be the licensing measures with legalized sports gambling? Would it be restricted to games only ... or could the performance of individuals take on a whole new meaning—similar to fantasy football on NFL Sundays?
d) Would SEC programs have the power to censure student-athletes within the realm of sports gambling, if the sport in question had nothing to do with an individual's everyday existence?
e) How would legalized sports gambling affect the reporting of injuries at the college level?
f) Would the SEC be comfortable with TV partners like ESPN and the SEC Network openly discussing betting lines on various shows? Going one step further, would conference officials lose their minds if ESPN and SEC Network built new programming around college betting lines?
g) Does the NCAA, or the Power 5 conferences (SEC, Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12, Big 12), have the right to demand a proverbial "cut" of the betting action, since the leagues are producing the gaming events from scratch?
Actually, the last question's an easy one to handle. Short of the players, coaches or schools going on strike, it's hard to envision any scenario in which the states openly volunteer slices of the revenue pie to the NCAA, NBA, NFL, NHL, PGA or Major League Baseball.
How large is that pie, in general terms? Well, Statista.com estimates the U.S. casino market gaming revenue was roughly $76.6 billion in 2017.
Back to the SEC's conundrum: Sankey offered a two-tiered response to the NCAA's potential options, in lieu of this new phenomenon.
"I think there are really two parts (to handling gambling): Monitoring what's happening at a state and local level, from a policy standpoint. That's the communications with other leagues both at the college and professional level, and then the discussion of, 'Should we be in the habit of subscribing to a service that analyzes our games?'"
If you read between the lines ... it sounds like the SEC and NCAA have at least explored various means to control the sports-gambling product. Right now, though, it seems like an implausible task.
It makes for great theater to hear College Gameday's Lee Corso declare, "(Game X) will be closer than the experts think" on fall Saturdays.
Without pretense, we know that Lee has a full grasp of the point spreads for nationally appealing games ... just like Lee knows that we know what he's talking about. And yet, until the Supreme Court dropped this judicial bomb on the sporting realm a few months ago, hardly anyone said boo about it.
So, why is this a bad thing now? For me, it's simple.
Two years ago, while having lunch with a friend in Atlanta, I made an off-the-cuff comment about that week's Texas @ TCU matchup. Something to the effect of, "This has all the makings of a blowout."
If memory serves, TCU opened the day as a 12-point favorite ... and eventually earned a 50-7 rout of the hated Longhorns.
In fact, the spread had been conquered long before halftime.
Back then, my friend didn't have an outlet for placing a bet, outside of booking an expensive flight to Vegas and letting it ride at a sanctioned sportsbook. But now, if the Georgia officials were to approve legalized sports gambling, anyone would have direct betting access to certain matchups that scream "blowout."
Either call a bookie, or place an app-based bet on your smartphone.
As a sports journalist, I would never make a formal bet with college sports. Not my style.
At the same time, if someone asks for an opinion about a matchup or the point spread ... it would be un-American not to comment.
This should be a genuine concern for administrators everywhere.
If gambling speculation can run rampant with my gaggle of harmless friends, just imagine the conversations taking place on college campuses, where the student populace has tremendous access to the actual players.
After all, the calendar may read July 16, but some Vegas bookmakers already have established lines for the Week 1 slate of college matchups.
There's really no stopping it.
SEC WEEK 1 BETTING LINES (source: Odds Shark)
MTSU @ Vanderbilt (-6)
Central Michigan @ Kentucky (-20)
Ole Miss @ Texas Tech (+1 1/2)
Neutral field: Alabama vs. Louisville (+28 1/2)
Neutral field: Miami vs. LSU (+3)
Neutral field: Tennessee vs. West Virginia (-7)
Neutral field: Auburn vs. Washington (+3 1/2)