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Sports Gambling Raises Fears College Athletes May Face Greater Risks Of Intimidation

In my recent article on, I argue that as states have legalized sports betting, or are in the process of doing so, and 26 have legalized gambling through online or mobile devices in addition to traditional in-person venues that athletes may be facing more online harassment, threats, and intimidation. What do you think?

Super Bowl Proposition Bets At The Westgate Las Vegas Race & Sports SuperBook
LAS VEGAS, NV – The betting line and some of the nearly 400 proposition bets for a recent Super Bowl … [+]GETTY IMAGES

Most states have legalized sports betting, or are in the process of doing so, and 26 have legalized gambling through online or mobile devices in addition to traditional in-person venues. With rapidly expanding participation in legal gambling, the potential for high stakes, and easy access to social media, might we be putting athletes at risk for threats or intimidation?

Sports Betting Is Big Business

Over the five years since a Supreme Court decision opened the way for states to legalize sports betting, an estimated $226 billion has been wagered in the U.S., generating over $18 billion in profits for bookmakers, and an estimated $3 billion in tax revenue supporting state budgets. An estimated 68 million U.S. adults bet on the NCAA “March Madness” basketball tournament alone, wagering around $15.5 billion on this one event.

Betting is not only popular as a pastime, but it is also valuable for the sports leagues. Professional and college sports leagues and teams expect to make billions of dollars from lucrative deals with the data companies that allow this gambling ecosystem to work. By cooperating, companies get access to valuable real-time data while games are being played, allowing for real-time wagering on in-game action, driving engagement and revenue higher. Other revenue streams, such as marketing and advertising, are likely to encourage more collaboration between colleges, leagues, and corporate interests.

Friends using mobile phone during a tennis match
Friends using mobile phone during a tennis match on the TV.GETTY

Athletes And Those Around Them At Risk Of Gambling

Our college athletes and their coaching staffs, who fuel this industry with their dedication and exciting performances may be the only group not currently profiting from this booming industry. In fact, NCAA policy has strict limitations on gambling activity for its athletes, coaches, and affiliated staff.

Athletes can face serious fines, legal exposure, or lose eligibility to participate if they run afoul of the NCAA guidelines against gambling-even as the institutions promote gambling to fans, students, and community members. Dozens of athletes at Iowa and Iowa State, for example, are being investigated for gambling-related activities, facing serious consequences. We have also seen coaches investigated and sanctioned. Yet this is against a backdrop of pervasive on-campus gambling, with a survey of thousands of 18- to 22-year-old adults indicating that 67% of students living on campus actively bet on sports. Alarmingly, this same survey reported that 6% of respondents have lost over $500 in a single day betting on sports, which aligns with other research suggesting that college-age adults are at much higher risk for serious gambling problems.

Athletes Under Threat From Gamblers

In January 2023, the new gambling laws went into effect in Ohio, and within days we saw University of Dayton basketball players targeted with hateful comments online after dropping a fourteen-point lead late in the game. Just a few weeks earlier, Ohio State football players received death threats after a disappointing performance.

Unfortunately, abuse and death threats are not new, yet with the combination of broad access to social media and broad participation in sports betting, we can expect increased hostility, abuse, and threats to our athletes. The FBI and other regulatory agencies consider this a “growing issue” of concern, logging hundreds of instances of this undesirable behavior per year, and the abuse seems particularly prevalent when teams fail to “beat the spread,” or perform according to gamblers’ or bookmakers’ projections.

College and professional athletes already have tremendously stressful lives, and this surely will cause more challenges to maintaining a healthy and balanced life. University administrators, law enforcement, state regulators, and sports league officials have been discussing how to protect athletes, but currently, there are few protections or avenues for addressing these behaviors outside referral to law enforcement for the most egregious threats.

What Can We Do To Protect Athletes, Coaches, Officials, And Staff

These behaviors are complicated, and the solutions are likely to be challenging. Universities and sports leagues must first be aware of the problem, and work to educate athletes and those around them of the risks and likely challenges. We must provide resources to help our athletes cope with these challenges- education on how to protect oneself online, mental wellness resources and support, and active pursuit of offenders. Companies like SportRadar are already effectively working in this space to protect against threats, investigate bad behavior, and monitor for other challenges, such as match-fixing. We must allocate some of these new resources toward protecting the people and the systems that allow us to enjoy compelling sports.

State regulators must also be part of the solution. As leaders within each state, they have the power to create rules and punish offenders- as Ohio regulators have done in a growing number of cases. Unfortunately, because these activities are controlled by states, offenders banned in one state can slip through the cracks and engage in another state. Broader, national coordination may be necessary if we are seriously attempting to remove offenders from the system.

While there are no easy solutions, some other first steps could include:

  1. anonymous “hotlines” for athletes and other members of the sports community to report threats, intimidation, or interference, along with a nationally coordinated agency empowered to investigate and act on reports;
  2. developing and implementing comprehensive educational programming for campus communities and the athletes that participate in sports; and
  3. protecting athlete and staff privacy by helping everyone understand how to safely engage in social media and reviewing publicly available information that institutions share, such as directories and contact information.

Who will lead your university in the future?

Jason W. Osborne, Miami University

Jason W. Osborne served as Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at Miami University from 2019–2022.

As we work to establish a new normal in post-pandemic higher education, it is clear that the past few years have taken a toll on institutions, faculty, staff, students, society… and academic and institutional leaders. Before 2020, these jobs were already challenging, but now students, faculty, staff, and other stakeholders seem more eager than ever to oust those they hired to lead their institutions, whether it is because of crime in the city, the venue for a fundraising eventdigitizing library resourcesaffordabilityconcerns over leadership/ethics, or perceived lack of shared governance.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, seven out of the past eight years have seen the highest number of no confidence votes ever recorded, and many leaders have resigned or been pushed out without formal votes of no confidence. While it is difficult to quantify the scope of the current churn in leadership ranks, the American Council on Education noted that the average presidential tenure has decreased 23.5% since 2006, from 8.5 years to 6.5 years in 2017, and there is good reason to believe the average tenure will decrease significantly again when the 2023 data are released. For provosts, turnover is quicker and more widespread, with one study estimating that 50% of provosts had turned over in the past 36 months, followed closely by deans (42–44% turnover) and leaders in advancement, enrollment management/admissions, financial/business, and student life/student affairs (37%-41%). There is little data on other leaders, including department heads/chairs, associate and assistant deans/provosts, AVPs, and so forth, but one could expect similar patterns for these challenging positions.

There is much to be upset about in the higher education world these days. Yet institutional leadership matters a great deal, and having the right leader is crucial in these challenging times. Fresh perspectives and new leadership are often warranted and desirable, yet frequent turnover in key leadership positions might incur serious institutional costs. Institutions and their stakeholder groups must have a range of responses to disappointment or frustration, and laying all of the institution’s ills at the feet of the president (or provost, or dean, or board of trustees) is likely overly simplistic and potentially damaging. When undesirable events or situations develop, I would suggest that a range of responses be considered. These could include replacing the leader, but it could also include investing in leadership development or development for the leadership team. If one were to view institutional leaders as a resource rather than “the enemy,” then institutions might engage in rich and thoughtful conversations about the type of leadership the institution needs, and whether the potential benefits of seeking a change in leaders might outweigh the likely costs.

Below is a list of some factors that campus stakeholders might want to consider when faced with frustrating or troubling events:

Jason Wingard recently stepped down as President of Temple University after facing challenges like striking graduate students and crime off campus.

1. Is the event that is concerning you something that the leader has specific control over? There are many things that upset me every day in this world. While we often want to blame someone for things we disagree with — budget cuts, reductions in degree programs, an assault on or near campus, a discriminatory incident, state policy changes, and so forth- the reality is that the person taking the blame might not have specific control over what happened. Leaders often must take actions to comply with regulations, statutes, or directives. Leaders often are unable to act in other cases, such as when speech is distasteful but allowed by law or when people are accused but not yet convicted of offenses. So, while things may feel personally upsetting, you might want to ask whether that individual (a) had specific control over the situation, (b) was working in good faith for the best interests of the entire institution, and © consulted appropriately with shared governance in making the decision. It might be the case that you are upset with the message or messenger, and in this case, adverse actions against the leader could be contrary to the best interests of the institution- and you.

2. Does the leader share my interests and concerns? In general, I suggest that your leaders and you have a shared interest- a thriving, vibrant, and successful institution. While there is often talk of the “corporatization of higher education,” only about 15% of presidents come from outside the academy, and even in these cases, a leader’s personal self interest is often closely aligned with the broad, long-term interests of the faculty, staff, and students. Non-profit colleges and universities have no incentive to slash budgets or cut lines unless it is really necessary. No leader wants to be the one taking adverse actions, so if your institution is facing this situation (as many are right now), I would recommend asking why your president, provost, or dean is recommending cuts, really looking at long term trends in net revenue and expenses, and being open to the fact that the long-term health of the institution might require some short-term budget cuts or reallocations. Consider the likely outcomes if the cuts are not made- there are many examples of institutions who refused to accept reality until it dramatic action was necessary, often resulting in much broader, long-term damage to reputation and mission.

Kristina Johnson announced her resignation from Ohio State after serving only a couple years as president. She previously served only three years as SUNY Chancellor.

3. Are we looking at frequent leader turnover, and can that cause reputational damage? While I was a faculty member early in my career, a very good institution went through provosts about every 18 months. This means that there was no stable academic leadership, direction, strategy, or progress for many years at a time, and yet we were investing significant financial resources and faculty and staff energy in national search after national search. What we didn’t talk about was whether repeated turnover in leadership can cause reputational harm to the institution which may adversely impact the ability to recruit future leaders. Potential candidates watch trends, researching you as closely as you research them, and the strongest candidates may be reluctant to consider a position at an institution that could derail or damage their career or reputation, or lead to a short tenure. I recommend thinking about how your future as a member of an institution is aligned with the reputation of the institution, and how fragile that reputation can be. It is in your interest to ensure your institution is seen as a great place to work for everyone- including those who serve as your leaders.

4. Are we providing effective support and leadership development to ensure the institution is benefitting from this significant investment? Consider that even a seasoned leader — internal or external- will need time to learn a new position, which may slow down or derail important initiatives and progress on strategic priorities. If it takes six to nine months to search for a senior leader once there is a vacancy, and it takes the new leader another six to nine months to really get their legs under them. That means your institution could lose up to 18 months of effective leadership- where nationally, provosts are averaging only about three years tenure, for example. That is an exceptional cost to an institution in the fast-moving and increasingly uncertain times we face in higher education, and might argue that institutions invest in supporting and retaining leaders rather than replacing them every few years.

5. Who takes over if a leader steps down? These are typically mission-critical positions that must be filled, so when a vacancy occurs, you often see a series of interim appointments, placing burdens on those who already had a mission-critical, full-time job. Then others have to assume their vacated roles (or worse, they have to fulfill both roles), and so on. Interim positions can provide opportunities for deserving leaders to shine, but also leaves many within your institution on the steep part of the learning curve simultaneously and often, abruptly, and temporarily, meaning they may be limited in how extensively they can steer the strategic direction of the institution. These cascading effects on an institution may disrupt key initiatives.

University of Southern Maine organizational chart

6. How much does it cost to replace senior leaders? When leader steps down, the institution risks losing institutional knowledge and momentum toward strategic priorities- these can be serious costs in themselves. There are also substantial monetary costs of a search, which also requires valuable time from faculty, staff, students, and other stakeholders that could otherwise be spent on other priorities. That former leader may return to the faculty, typically after a sabbatical, and often at a higher than typical salary for an indefinite period of time. Startup costs to ramp up a research lab or get ready for the classroom may be added in as well. Moving and relocation costs are not insignificant if a new hire is coming from out of town. All of this is a great investment when new leadership is truly needed and an waste of time and resources if it is happening too frequently as the sole remedy for discontent on campus.

7. How long will it take the new leader to develop the significant relationships that are required to run an institution? Relationships matter in higher education and it takes lots of time and energy for leaders to create and nurture valuable external relationships with alumni, corporate leaders, donors, and government partners. It takes just as long to build the internal relationships that are required to run a complicated institution. There are few institutions that can gladly forego years of donations and support from advancement, but replacing key leaders (deans, provost, president, VP for advancement, etc.) may adversely impact fundraising, which reduces potential support for faculty, students, and academic priorities. One must ask, for example, whether a vote of no confidence is worth the potential loss of support the institution would otherwise gain in retaining and supporting that individual.

8. Will a new leader amplify existing strategic goals and efforts or want to bring entirely new priorities and agendas? There are times when an institution needs some new perspectives and energy, but executing real change in higher education can take many years to complete. Frequent turnover can lead to an environment of constant whipsawing between ambitious agendas and managing the interim periods, then adjusting to new vision and goals, then managing interim periods, and so on. This can be disheartening to stakeholders who put valuable time into the prior strategic plan, and can leave an institution stagnating when others are driving forward. Once lost, competitive advantage is difficult to regain.

In summary…

Turnover in leadership can be valuable or necessary to move an institution forward. In the often heated discussions of campus discontent, it might be worthwhile to ask what might be lost if leaders are removed. Campus stakeholders must consider the many costs of turnover to evaluate whether it is needed and likely to be a net benefit. Remembering that most leaders in academia are coming from the faculty, having sat where you now sit, and often having had no formal leadership training, might it be worth asking whether the leader has strengths and opportunities for growth, and it might be beneficial for students, faculty, staff, and the institution as a whole to support the current human in the role, who is likely working very hard every day to support you and the best interests of the institution.

Meeting the challenges of higher education

Interview with Jason Osborne (Miami University)

Q: What are the key challenges facing HE institutions in the US? 

Firstly, thank you, Deepak, for interviewing me. Much appreciated, and I hope this is useful for you.

Higher education in the US in 2023 faces challenges that reflect global pressures and internal stressors.

While working as Provost and in other HE leadership positions, I’ve seen the speed at which challenges have been coming for educational institutions in the US. Some, like the COVID-19 pandemic, were utterly unpredictable.  Others, like the “demographic cliff” and reduced public funding for higher education, have been ongoing for decades.  Yet it seems as though the rate of change has increased exponentially over the last decade or so, particularly since the pandemic hit.

Higher education faces many simultaneous, serious challenges.  Yet as my colleague Brent Shock and I discuss in our recent Inside Higher Ed article, none of them are insurmountable if institutions are strategic and focus on their core mission and values.  Let’s talk about a few that have been top of mind recently.

Miami University Institute for Responsible Gaming, Lottery, and Sport featured as March Madness approaches

(TND) — Legal sports betting has exploded in a few short years, and a group at Miami University in Ohio is working to reduce the negative consequences.

More than 30 states have legalized sports betting in less than five years since a Supreme Court ruling cleared the way.

Sports gambling is already a huge business. A quarter of American adults plan to bet on the men’s college basketball tournament that starts this week, according to the American Gaming Association.

The AGA estimates tournament betting will total $15.5 billion this year.

And some analysts expect the sports-betting market in the U.S. to reach $167 billion by the end of the decade.

“As the scope expands, then the potential for adverse outcomes (expands),” said Jason W. Osborne, who’s with the Institute for Responsible Gaming, Lotteries, and Sport at Miami University.

Click here to see more of the article:

Miami University Institute for Responsible Gaming, Lottery, and Sport working to protect athletes

From a recent article by Faculty Fellows in Miami University’s Institute for Responsible Gaming, Lottery, and Sport

When March Madness begins on March 14, 2023, it’s a sure bet that millions of Americans will be making wagers on the annual college basketball tournament.

The American Gaming Association estimates that in 2022, 45 million people – or more than 17% of American adults – planned to wager US$3.1 billion on the NCAA tournament. That makes it one of the nation’s most popular sports betting events, alongside contests such as the Kentucky Derby and the Super Bowl. By at least one estimate, March Madness is the most popular betting target of all.

While people have been betting on March Madness for years, one difference now is that betting on college sports is legal in many states. This is largely due to a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that cleared the way for each state to decide whether to permit people to gamble on sporting events. Prior to the ruling, legal sports betting was only allowed in Nevada.

Since the ruling, sports betting has grown dramatically. Currently, 36 states allow some form of legalized sports betting. And now, Georgia, Maine and Kentucky are proposing legislation to make sports betting legal.

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About two weeks after sports betting became legal in Ohio on Jan. 1, 2023, someone, disappointed by an unexpected loss of the University of Dayton men’s basketball team to Virginia Commonwealth University, made threats and left disparaging messages against Dayton athletes and the coaching staff.

The Ohio case is by no means isolated. In 2019, a Babson College student who was a “prolific sports gambler” was sentenced to 18 months in prison for sending death threats to at least 45 professional and collegiate athletes in 2017.

Faculty members of Miami University’s Institute for Responsible Gaming, Lottery, and Sports are concerned that the increasing prevalence of sports betting could potentially lead to more such incidents, putting more athletes in danger of threats from disgruntled gamblers who blame them for their gambling losses.

The anticipated growth in sports gambling is quite sizable. Analysts estimate the market in the U.S. may reach over US$167 billion by 2029.

Gambling makes inroads into colleges

Concerns over college athletes being targeted by upset gamblers are not new. Players and sports organizations have expressed worry that expanded gambling could lead to harassment and compromise their safety. Such concerns led the nation’s major sports organizations – MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL and NCAA – to sue New Jersey in 2012 over a plan to initiate legal sports betting in that state. They argued that sports betting would make the public think that games were being thrown. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that it was up to states to decide if they wanted to permit legal gambling.

Sports betting has also made inroads into America’s college campuses. Some universities, such as Louisiana State University and Michigan State University, have signed multimillion-dollar deals with casinos or gaming companies to promote gambling on campus.

A girl looks excitedly at her cell phone.
Sports betting has made inroads into colleges. Wpadington via Getty Images

Athletic conferences are also cashing in on the data related to these games and events. For instance, the Mid-Atlantic Conference signed a lucrative five-year deal in 2022 to provide real-time statistical event data to gambling companies, which then leverage the data to create real-time wager opportunities during sporting events.

As sports betting comes to colleges and universities, it means the schools will inevitably have to deal with some of the negative aspects of gambling. This potentially includes more than just gambling addiction. It could also involve the potential for student-athletes and coaches to become targets of threats, intimidation or bribes to influence the outcome of events.

The risk for addiction on campus is real. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, over 2 million adults in the U.S. have a “serious” gambling problem, and another 4 million to 6 million may have mild to moderate problems. One report estimates that 6% of college students have a serious gambling problem.

What can be done

Colleges and universities don’t have to sit idly by as gambling grows.

Two faculty fellows at Miami University’s Institute for Responsible Gaming, Lottery, and Sport – former Ohio State Senator William Coley and Sharon Custer – recommend that regulators and policymakers work with colleges and universities to reduce the potential harm from the growth in legal gaming. Specifically, they recommend that each state regulatory authority:

  • Develop plans to coordinate between different governmental agencies to ensure that individuals found guilty of violations are sanctioned in other jurisdictions.
  • Dedicate some of the revenue from gaming to develop educational materials and support services for athletes and those around them.
  • Create anonymous tip lines to report threats, intimidation or influence, and fund an independent entity to respond to these reports.
  • Assess and protect athlete privacy. For instance, schools might decline to publish contact information for student-athletes and coaches in public directories.
  • Train athletes and those around them on basic privacy management. For instance, schools might advise athletes to not post on public social media outlets, especially if the post gives away their physical location.

The NCAA or athletic conferences could lead the development of resources, policies and sanctions that serve to educate, protect and support student-athletes and others around them who work at the schools for which they play. This will require significant investment to be comprehensive and effective.