The NCAA is monitoring Las Vegas betting lines and mounting a campaign targeting student bookies to curb illegal wagering on college sports.
But NCAA president Cedric Dempsey says an old problem is getting worse."I am amazed how frequently I am asked what is the point spread on a game," Dempsey said Wednesday before addressing a conference on illegal betting on college athletics. "I think it is tied into how our society has accepted gambling."
Forty-seven states now allow some form of wagering, he said. Tennessee, Utah and Hawaii do not.
"There is a high to gambling," Dempsey admits. "But there also is a pretty low to it as well. It is not a victimless crime. People are hurt badly by it, as well as institutions and the integrity of the sport."
The NCAA has turned to legitimate Las Vegas oddsmakers for help.
The NCAA used the betting line service from Las Vegas oddsmaker Roxy Roxborough for the first time to monitor games during this year's NCAA basketball tournament.
"There were no games we had any concern about," said Bill Saum, the NCAA's gambling enforcement agent. "But it was comforting that it was there."
Saum said the NCAA computer program is the same one that the casinos use. "We can see the point spread at all the different casinos and we can also see the point spread on all of the games. So we can watch it change."
It will only take a shift of a couple of points in a day to draw the NCAA's attention, he said.
This fall, the NCAA will be watching the line on football games as well.
Anyone who believes his college is immune to illegal gambling is wrong, Dempsey said.
"There is no reason to believe there isn't any campus in this country that doesn't have student bookies," Dempsey said.
"There are some studies that indicate we spend more money on college campuses on gambling than we do on alcohol. And that is significant."
The NCAA is countering with an educational campaign aimed at both student-athletes and other students. For the first time, the NCAA is talking with student affairs associations about the problem - as much as a health issue of addiction as a question of ethics.
Dempsey recalled that longtime NCAA executive Walter Byers used to say that "the one thing that could bring down intercollegiate athletics was gambling."
Recent events have "heightened our concern," Dempsey said.
For the first time, the amount of money bet on the NCAA basketball tournament last spring - some $60 million - exceeded wagering on the Super Bowl.
Recent point-shaving scandals at Northwestern and Arizona State have served only to bring home the point.
"If there is one positive of the Northwestern situation, it was that it really caught people's attention," Dempsey said. "If this can happen at Northwestern - an outstanding academic institution that isn't a high-powered basketball program - then it can happen anywhere."