Pitt AD Heather Lyke Continues Beating Drum Against Betting on College Sports

Posted on November 2, 2020

University of Pittsburgh Athletic Director Heather Lyke continues to hold strong in her stance against gambling on college sports. Lyke was a panelist on the webinar “LEAD1 Forum: A Whole New Ballgame: Implications of Legalized Sports Betting for College Athletics” on Oct. 27.

Quick rewind/primer at the source of Lyke’s bone to pick.

In May 2018, the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA). This opened the door for legal sports betting outside of Nevada.

The first retail sportsbook opened in Pennsylvania in Dec. 2018 and online sports betting arrived in late May 2019. Of course, non-regulated sports betting, either through offshore operators or bookies, occurred before.

Arguments against sports betting regulation

Various factors contribute to the reasons Lyke and some other colleges aren’t all-aboard the legal sports betting bus.

  • The United States is the only country with college athletics that garner attention from a wide audience. The student-athletes who play also attend class on-campus and are much more accessible than professional athletes.
  • NCAA student-athletes do not get paid.
  • Regulations on sports betting vary state-by-state. For instance in PA, you can bet on in-state schools like Penn State, Pitt and Temple. However, in New Jersey you can’t bet on in-state schools like Rutgers or Seton Hall.

US Senate discusses sports betting and college sports

At a Senate Judiciary Committee titled “Protecting the Integrity of College Athletics” on July 22, Lyke said that gambling on college sports should be prohibited.

Lyke, who has been Pitt’s AD since 2017, was part of a group of college athletic administrators who want federal legislation regarding rules which allow players to earn money off their name, image and likeness.

“The ACC opposes gambling on intercollegiate sports. While we understand that gambling on professional sports is here to stay, we urge Congress to directly address gambling on intercollegiate athletics and prohibit it, as was intended in PASPA and had been the case for so long.”

Main points of AD Lyke’s testimony

1. Student and student-athlete well-being

Lyke believes that the advent of legal wagering on college sports will have a “corrosive and detrimental” impact on student-athletes and the student body.

“Gambling creates pressures and temptations that should not exist.”

Lyke pointed out that unlike professional athletes, student-athletes are a visible, accessible part of the university’s community.

“While currently a spectator’s pride and team spirit might hinge on a win or a loss, if sports wagering is permitted, one’s livelihood could depend on the outcome of a Saturday afternoon game. This significantly increases the pressure for student athletes to perform or not perform depending on the given bet. Social media messages about and to student-athletes after ‘big’ losses provide a glimpse of the current pressures and threats student-athletes face.

“These messages pale in comparison to those that will come when a spectator has bet a relatively large sum of money on the game. With wagering legal and money at stake, those threats will be more numerous and, worse yet, may be acted on. Regardless of whether these threats are acted on, the threats themselves increase the overall pressure on student-athletes and undermine the amateur nature of intercollegiate athletics.”

2. The integrity of amateur competition

Lyke said students may be susceptible to corruption by gambling interests who will seek to utilize them as sources of information before placing wagers.

“Unlike professional sports teams with limited athletes, strong security organizations and significant financial resources, universities will be unable to police the student-athletes, athletic staff, student body, boosters & alumni, families of student-athletes and others who could endanger the student-athlete, the student body and the institution.”

She added that supporting prop betting additionally “tarnishes” the integrity of the game.

3. The compliance impact on all our institutions of higher education

When it comes to betting on college sports, it’s up to each state to set the regulations.

“Ironically, the case for prohibiting gambling on intercollegiate athletics on a national basis is made by the very states that have authorized it. Many states that have permitted sports wagering have recognized the dangers of wagering on intercollegiate sports and prohibited wagering on teams in their home state or on competitions that take place in their home state.

“While these states seek to protect their own students and universities, they are more than willing to allow the corrosive effects of gambling to impact the rest of the country. Of course, their neighboring states are doing the same to them.”

Lyke continues to talk against sports betting

At the LEAD1 Forum, Lyke said that her time in Washington, D.C. providing testimony was a beneficial opportunity to express the practical implications of decisions when there are varied state laws.

“It’s challenging for us to enforce and send the right message.This is something else we worry about at night.”

She touched on each of the three main points of her testimony and pointed out it is important to draw the distinction between professional and college sports.

“It’s important to draw the distinction between professional and college sports. The decisions we make about 18-22 year-olds impact the lives of other peoples’ children. They are still kids and they still easily influenced. There is much less susceptibility to financial temptation for professional athletes. They are at a different compensation level.”

Integrity and college sports

Integrity of the game is a fundamental issue for professional and college teams. At the Lead1 Forum, Lyke said the University of Pittsburgh hired U.S. Integrity to monitor each sport and betting line.

U.S. Integrity’s goal is to identify suspicious behavior by analyzing changes in betting data against a benchmark of normal betting activity. Penn State, the University of Colorado and the NBA are some other clients of U.S. Integrity. 

“We’ve seen situations where the line gets impacted by players who may or may not play. It’s an investment. Now that it’s legal, the volume of betting continues to grow and potential for abuse, too.”

Don’t expect Pitt to make any deals like Univ. of Colorado

The University of Colorado signed a first-of-its kind partnership deal with Denver-based sports betting operator PointsBet in early September. PointsBet is the first sportsbook operator to sign a gambling agreement with a US college. The deal includes sports betting, casino, fantasy and free-to-play contests.

When asked about the University of Colorado and PointsBet pairing during the LEAD1 Forum, Lyke responded:

“It’s purely an economic decision. These types of decisions are all philosophical decisions by universities and typically led by presidents and ADs about who you want to connect with in regards to sponsorship.

“This would not ever happen at the University of Pittsburgh. It presents another decision universities are going to have to make like allowing alcohol or gambling advertising that board members at the university usually vote on.”

Lead image credit: AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

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Katie Kohler

Katie Kohler is a Philadelphia-area based award-winning journalist. She covers the Pennsylvania gambling industry with an emphasis on sports betting, online casino/poker and the lottery.

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