D-I athletic directors talk development of rules for paid fantasy leagues

ByDarren Rovell and David Purdum ESPN logo
Wednesday, September 23, 2015

How to legislate the participation of collegiate athletes and staff in fantasy leagues turned into a hot-button topic Tuesday as NCAA Division I athletic directors met in Dallas.

With the legality of daily fantasy sports being examined by lawmakers at the state and federal levels, Oliver Luck, the NCAA's vice president of regulatory affairs, told athletic directors that the NCAA feels fantasy leagues fall under its gambling rules. NCAA Bylaw 10.3 stipulates that an athlete who is found to have participated in any gambling activity, in any sport, college or pro, will lose one year of eligibility.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 includes language precluding fantasy sports that meet certain criteria from being a "bet or wager."

But three athletic directors in the room, who spoke with ESPN.com, said discussion turned to whether current NCAA bylaws are sufficient to link daily fantasy leagues to gambling when a federal law doesn't define them as such.

Mark Strothkamp, the NCAA's associate director of enforcement, confirmed the stance to ESPN.com in a recent interview.

"Fantasy leagues threaten both the integrity of the game and the well-being of student-athletes," Strothkamp said. "NCAA member schools have defined sports wagering as putting something at risk -- such as an entry fee -- with the opportunity to win something in return, which includes fantasy league games. Because of this, student-athletes, coaches, administrators and national office staff may not participate in a fantasy league game with a paid entry fee."

One idea broached Tuesday, sources said, was to prohibit athletes from playing in fantasy games involving college teams, if enforcing a ban on all fantasy sports play won't be legally sustainable.

The UIGEA, the statute that daily fantasy sports operators point to in regard to their legality, was supported by the major professional sports leagues and the NCAA nearly a decade ago. Then-NCAA general counsel Elsa Kircher Cole, along with Jeff Pash, executive vice president and general counsel for the NFL, and representatives of MLB, the NBA and the NHL, sent a letter to members of Congress stating the legislation "needs to become law in 2006 in order to preserve the integrity of our respective sports."

Fantasy sports have exploded since then, with FanDuel and DraftKings, the leading daily fantasy sites, awarding more than $3 billion in prizes in 2015. That has led officials in Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada and New Jersey to review the legality of daily fantasy. U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., a New Jersey Democrat, has requested a hearing on the matter. Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana and Washington state currently do not allow daily fantasy sports. Several additional states prohibit some form of daily fantasy.

Rob Manfred, commissioner of Major League Baseball, which owns a small equity stake in DraftKings, has said he believes that daily fantasy is not a form of sports gambling. MLB players, however, are prohibited from playing as part of the league's anti-gambling rules.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN The Magazine in January that: "While I wouldn't categorize [daily fantasy] as sports betting, on the continuum of no betting at all and legalized betting, it's certainly somewhere on the spectrum, but not yet sports betting." The NBA also bans its personnel from taking part in NBA fantasy leagues that are for money.

As evidenced by Tuesday's discussion, the NCAA continues to wrestle with the topic, too.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, speaking at Saturday's Stanford-USC game, was quoted as saying that a joint letter from the commissioners of Football Bowl Subdivision conferences was sent to DraftKings and FanDuel asking them discontinue fantasy games that include the names of college players. Dozens of college football daily fantasy contests -- some with six-figure prize pools -- have taken place in the first three weeks of the new season.

Neither FanDuel nor DraftKings would confirm to ESPN.com that it had received the letter, and the Pac-12 would not provide the letter, saying it was private and not for public consumption. The SEC did confirm to ESPN.com that commissioner Greg Sankey signed the letter referenced by Scott. The Big Ten declined comment.

Scott also said the Pac-12 Network would not accept ads from DraftKings or FanDuel, but Pac-12 spokesman Erik Hardenbergh later clarified to ESPN.com that it was, in fact, still running daily fantasy advertising within its game broadcasts, including this weekend.

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