With the legalisation of sports betting sweeping across the US, the landscape of collegiate athletics has encountered a host of new challenges and complexities.

The Mid-American Conference (MAC), a powerhouse collegiate athletic conference composed of NCAA Division I schools primarily located in the heartland of the United States, finds itself at the forefront of the evolving sports betting landscape.

Jon Steinbrecher, Commissioner of MAC, discussed with Insider Sport the intricate balance between capitalising on the financial benefits of betting sector engagement and ensuring robust integrity and player protection standards in college sports.

Insider Sport: How can college sports secure the financial benefits of betting sector engagement whilst also ensuring robust integrity and player protection standards?

Jon Steinbrecher: Let us start with integrity and player protection. First, we are focused on safeguarding the integrity of our games. This includes things such as on-going educational programming for student-athletes, coaches, administrators, officials, and even fans. The use of integrity service providers to give oversight of all events which may be wagered upon has become increasingly common.  

Additionally, we are looking for additional ways in which those involved in events can reach out for assistance if they believe they are being intimidated or harassed by those who wager on sports, or if they observe behaviours that are impermissible. These are all things one can and should be doing, regardless of any direct relationship with the sports wagering world. 

In terms of benefiting from engagement with sports wagering entities, data is certainly one area worth exploring. Sponsorships are another area. Beyond that, opportunities will evolve in time at the collegiate level.

Insider Sport: What methods are colleges and universities taking to protect students from gambling-related harm? Can you cite any particular successful initiatives or programs?

JS: As a baseline this begins with a comprehensive educational program which is best if it is on-going, not just a once a semester or once a year type of activity. Clearly explaining the does and don’ts, helping those involved to understand the value of information and the need to not share team information with anyone outside the team. 

We are working to provide pathways for our participants (student-athletes, coaches, and officials) to have a confidential way to seek assistance if they believe others are trying to intimidate them or if they observe inappropriate behaviour.  

Additionally, it is beneficial for those involved to understand the oversight and regulation associated with legalised sports wagering. They need to understand that if they place a bet, it will be discovered.  

Finally, it is important to provide a pathway for those involved to have a place to seek assistance if they have an addiction issue. 

Insider Sport: Collegiate sports play a huge role in the US, acting as the main source of talent for its professional-level leagues. How important is it for the wider sporting ecosystem that universities ensure compliance?

JS: The competitive integrity of athletics events is of paramount importance. We attack this issue with education, oversight, and enforcement of violations. We monitor every event that is wagered upon in a legal sports wagering enterprise – domestic and international. 

We take this responsibility seriously and invest time and resources to do everything we can to ensure confidence in the integrity of the events. 

Insider Sport: After betting-related controversies in Iowa and New York, what should conferences do in terms of evaluating what they have in place and what they can do better?

JS: There is no magic vaccination to insure there will never be another sports wagering related controversy. However, a robust program that includes education, oversight and monitoring, combined with vigorous enforcement, is essential.  

Additionally, it is important that we partner with the sports wagering enterprise and work together on these issues. We want to work together to be part of the solution as we both have an interest in event integrity. We should have open lines of communication with local, state, and federal law enforcement and state gaming commissions.  

From my perspective, legalised sports wagering increases the number of interested parties involved, which should help to bolster integrity.

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