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Purdue Approves Boilermaker Betting Ban; Students Not Happy – Is A Legal Challenge Next?

Yesterday, the Purdue University Board of Trustees voted to implement a policy prohibiting non-athlete students, staff and faculty from betting on events involving Purdue sports teams, athletes or coaches.

A Purdue University press release explains the policy was implemented at the urging of certain faculty members and the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. The policy applies not only to wagers placed at Indiana sportsbooks but to wagers placed “worldwide and online.”

The press release further explains faculty and staff who violate the policy will face discipline “up to and including termination.” Disciplinary measures for students who violate the policy will be developed by the vice provost for faculty affairs and vice president for human resources alongside the Executive Policy Review Group.

Student athletes are already prohibited from wagering on their own sports under NCAA rules and the Indiana sports betting law that was approved earlier this year. Among other restrictions, IC § 4-38-9-3 includes this prohibition on athletes and other personnel involved in sports:

(5) With respect to a sporting event sponsored, organized, or conducted by a particular sports governing body, any of the following [are restricted from betting]:

  1. An employee of the sports governing body
  2. A game official employed by or under contract with the sports governing body
  3. A coach, manager, or other personnel employed by or under contract with a member club of the sports governing body
  4. An athlete who is:
    1. under contract with a member club of the sports governing body in the case of a team sport; or
    2. eligible to participate in events conducted by the sports governing body in the case of an individual sport
  5. An employee of a union representing athletes or game officials
  6. A relative living in the same household of an individual described in clauses (A) through (E)

Some Purdue Students Not Happy About the Prohibition

Not surprisingly, some Purdue students are not happy about being prohibited from betting on their own college’s sporting success.

WLFI News 18 spoke with some Purdue students this week to get their thoughts on the new rule.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me. Faculty I get, but not really the students,” said one student.

Others echoed his sentiments.

“I don’t know why we wouldn’t be allowed to. Doesn’t really make sense to me,” said student Hagen McHenry.

McHenry also raised an interesting point when he said, “I’m a citizen of Indiana. I don’t know why I wouldn’t have that right.”

Could Purdue Face a Legal Challenge?

Sports Illustrated published a thorough writeup yesterday discussing the Purdue prohibition proposal and some of the issues it may face. In addition to detailing the many ways in which it would be difficult to enforce such a ban, the article discusses the potential for a legal challenge.

According to Sports Illustrated, one potential avenue for challenging the policy would be on First Amendment grounds. If a Purdue student who is 21 and would otherwise be able to wager on sports legally takes the policy to court, that person could argue betting on the Boilermakers is a protected expression of free speech.

Would such an argument fly? That’s a tough one to predict. Universities are not exactly free speech extremists these days but have actually lost or settled quite a few free speech cases in recent years. Still, sports betting as an expression of free speech might be a tough sell.

Nonetheless, the odds of a legal challenge will grow if additional colleges follow in Purdue’s footsteps.

Faculty Prohibition Seems Sensible

While the merits of prohibiting Purdue students from betting on Purdue games are arguable, the prohibition of staff from doing the same seems sensible from the start. University staff and professors occupy a position of authority over students in a way students do not have over one another.

As Marc Edelman of Forbes notes, there are three obvious ways in which university professors could theoretically abuse their positions of authority over student athletes as it relates to sports betting:

  • Ask a student athlete to lose a game (or maybe just shave a few points off the total) as a part of a quid pro quo agreement
  • Seek inside information from a student regarding an upcoming game
  • Harass a student athlete for losing a game upon which the professor had a wager

One can imagine the many subtle ways in which these types of scenarios could unfold. Additionally, even seemingly innocuous comments from a careless professor could potentially put pressure on student athletes or otherwise sour the relationship to the detriment of athletes’ educations.

There will never be a perfect solution to these issues, of course. Professors could (almost) as easily place wagers at offshore sportsbooks with even less scrutiny. Still, removing one easily-available source of temptation and eliminating even the appearance of impropriety is a good move.

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