No More Holdouts As U.S. Colleges Wade Into Sports Data Market

May 2, 2022
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Opening a potentially multi-billion-dollar market for the sports betting industry, the non-profit agency overseeing college athletes and conferences in the United States is joining professional leagues in allowing the collection and distribution of sports wagering data.

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Opening a potentially multi-billion-dollar market for the sports betting industry, the non-profit agency overseeing college athletes and conferences in the United States is joining professional leagues in allowing the collection and distribution of sports wagering data.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the only major sports organization in North America to stay out of the sports betting market so far, announced the policy change last week.

“The [Division 1] Interpretations Committee met yesterday afternoon [April 26] and determined that an individual, school, or conference, may provide competition statistics to sports wagering companies only if the statistics are available to the general public,” said Saquandra Heath, the NCAA’s associate director of communications, external engagement.

“It is prohibited for individuals, schools or conferences to provide such information that is not publicly available,” Heath said.

Previously, NCAA bylaws forbade the release of any sports-betting data even if the information already was available to the public.

The new policy opens the door for college conferences to cash in on the rapidly expanding sports-betting market by forming corporate partnerships to collect and distribute data from their games to sportsbooks.

“It affirms what we’ve believed and contended all along – that the deal we struck [with Genius Sports] […] was not in conflict with NCAA policy,” Jon Steinbrecher, the commissioner of the Mid-American Conference, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance.

Upon signing an unprecedented partnership agreement in March with Genius Sports, Steinbrecher sought a clarification from the NCAA regarding restrictions on sports data.

“I think [the NCAA] felt there was sufficient ambiguity that there was a need to bring an official statement to it,” he said about the NCAA’s decision last week.

Steinbrecher said he kept the NCAA informed about his discussions with Genius Sports before the agreement was announced on March 9.

The NCAA also has a data collection and distribution deal for general media purposes with Genius Sports, which extends until 2028.

Ironically, the NCAA announced its 10-year agreement with Genius Sports on May 14, 2018, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal ban on sports betting.

It was about a year ago when Steinbrecher reached out to Genius Sports to begin discussions on a sports-wagering data partnership.

“As I looked around the landscape, a number of [sports] entities were doing corporate partnerships with casino properties for instance,” he said.

“Many of the schools in our own conference have had partnerships with state lotteries.”

Steinbrecher began meeting with college presidents in his conference who told him to proceed with negotiations with Genius Sports.

He said he also met with the Mid-American Conference Council of Student Athletes, which includes two athletes from each of the conference’s 12 colleges, and none of them objected to his plans.

“Then, as we dug further into it, what started to emerge – and it was in part looking around at what the professional leagues were doing; what they were doing in Europe and other parts of the world – that’s when we started zeroing in on the data, the statistics and that there was potentially an untapped revenue stream for us,” Steinbrecher said.

Steinbrecher declined to say how much money he expects the Mid-American Conference will gain from its deal with Genius Sports, but he said he expects other conferences to pursue similar contracts.

For example, the Pac-12 Conference in the western United States announced on March 12 it had reached a data technology agreement with Tempus Ex Machina, a media company based in San Francisco.

A Pac-12 official, who requested anonymity, said the conference is still trying to determine if “it’s appropriate and desirable to engage in data licensing with legalized sports betting operators for the purposes of further enhancing integrity of our games as state-by-state sports betting increases in the U.S.”

“We have not made a determination on that at this time,” the Pac-12 official said on Wednesday.

Tom McMillen, president and chief executive of the LEAD1 Association which represents college athletic directors, said the NCAA is going through a transformation in which conferences are likely to play a larger role in making decisions on issues like data collection and distribution.

Mark Emmert, the NCAA’s president, announced last week that he would be stepping down in June 2023.

“Regulation is going to become more fragmented, and when you don’t have cohesive regulation, you have more risk [of a sports betting scandal] in a decentralized environment,” said McMillen, a former Democratic congressman from Maryland who graduated from the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship and played in the National Basketball Association.

McMillen cited the prediction by billionaire Warren Buffett who has said a nuclear attack on U.S. soil is “virtually a certainty” but without saying when.

“There will be a sports betting scandal on a [college] campus. I just can’t predict when,” McMillen said.

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