Are NIL and Player Props Betting on College Athletes a Dangerous Combination?

College athletics have been considered amateur sports since the late 1800s, but as we all know now, those days are over.

Dimers.com contributor Jal Bijiek, a former Division I basketball player at the University of North Dakota, shares from his experience the effect the rise of NIL could have on college hoops and sports betting.

 

After the state of California passed SB26 allowing students to use their Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) for personal financial gain, the flood gates were open. Soon after, Florida followed suit and the NCAA’s challenge went all the way to the Supreme Court. The high court's unanimous decision in Alston vs. NCAA in favor of the California law left very little for the NCAA to do in opposition. 

The NCAA’s worst nightmare had now arrived. Student-athletes could now sell their own merchandise, get paid to sign autographs, promote products and services, and even get paid for event appearances — like the summer camps they would host in their hometowns.

With many high profile collegiate athletes seemingly becoming millionaires overnight, many can’t help but ask how this will affect relationships with teammates who will make considerably less. 

Will team chemistries crumble overnight? Will players go on strike demanding equal compensation? Will highly paid players have overarching influence over coaching decisions? 

In my recent experience with college basketball, life for the average player was hard. Even if you’re on a full-ride scholarship, which decidedly most are not, the per-hour compensation spent on their sport is considerably less than it would be if they spent that time working fast food. 

That feeling of financial insecurity will only rise when guys start seeing teammates pull up to practice in exotic cars. 

When I played basketball at Division I University of North Dakota there was a common understanding that we would all struggle together as a team. This shared struggle brought a lot of the teams I played for close together. We would spend the majority of days together and eat meals together. 

As of now we don’t have any idea of whether or how this change will splinter locker rooms across the country. 

I spoke with a former high school teammate of mine, Douglas Wilson, who just finished his senior year at South Dakota State University. His Jackrabbits frequently wind up representing the Summit League in the NCAA Tournament, getting knocked out in the first round of this year’s March Madness by fourth-seeded Providence, but Douglas wondered what NIL would do to college basketball from the mid-Majors on down.

“What will be the motivation of players at smaller schools to continue fighting and clawing every day when they see their large-school peers making millions more?” was Douglas’ take. 

This is where the U.S. Supreme Court landmark rulings allowing sports betting in Murphy vs. NCAA and NIL come to a possibly dangerous confluence.

On the one hand, betting on college sports, and prop-betting on individual college athletes’ performances would raise more players’ individual profiles. Perhaps states could enact legislation to additionally tax sportsbooks, as it were, to provide some compensation to athletes who aren’t getting big endorsement deals with local advertisers.

This not only would give lesser known players an opportunity to profit off their own names, but could pave the way for the NCAA to regulate this new gray area of amateur/pro hybrid athlete. On the other hand, college sports and college basketball in particular, are no strangers to betting scandals. 

Northwestern, Arizona State, Tulane and Boston College are a few of the more recent of point-shaving scandals, and going back to the 1950s there were as many as seven schools including Kentucky and national champion CCNY implicated. 

These are just the ones that got caught. Most surely didn’t.

But point shaving, maybe the most notorious phrase in sports, isn’t as black and white or as easy to pull off as some make it seem. 

Collegiate team sports are too dynamic and have too many moving pieces for one person's deliberate play having a sure thing effect. 

You have to be a star player to have enough of an impact, but if you miss too many shots your coach may simply stop playing you. Or your teammates — assuming they’re not in on your scheme — will wonder what happened to their leader. Maybe they step up and cover the spread themselves on your ‘off night.’

The only ‘sure thing’ you can bet is betting against your own, personal performance.

In other words, it would be much, much easier for a player looking for a little cash to bet against the end result of their own stat line than to conspire to fail against the spread.

In most states that allow online or retail-only betting, prop bets on college games are either prohibited or restricted. Only Louisiana, Michigan, Wyoming and the District of Columbia have no restrictions, while others restrict betting on props on teams within that state.

College athletes have long been held to higher ethical standards. Everyday at North Dakota that I came to practice or a game, we all felt like our scholarships were on the line — not a single person was going to risk that for the potential of making a quick buck shaving points.

Then again, that was before NIL.  

Jal Bijiek defending Tyler Herro in 2018

If the NCAA doesn’t step in and regulate a way for smaller schools, and little known athletes to earn fair compensation, they will see players turning to nefarious ways to earn compensation.

Financial insecurity is what drives people to make poor decisions, and seeing millionaire teammates and opponents on a daily basis will only further drive this insecurity.

 
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