The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Friday, June 21, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Blocking out the noise becomes harder when college athletes are bet upon

Lewis-UNC-0327-9.jpg
UNC basketball players laugh during dynamic warmups on Wednesday, March 27 prior to their appearence in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen against Alabama on Thursday.

LOS ANGELES — Caleb Love is still trying to block out the noise, to quote the Hubert Davis adage. 

This shouldn’t be surprising to any college basketball fan. Love, the former Tar Heel and current Arizona Wildcat, is arguably one of the most polarizing figures in the college game. His erratic shot selection and unpredictability have drawn equal parts fans, critics and gamblers.  

Sitting in Arizona’s locker room at the NCAA Tournament West Regional, he kissed his teeth and chuckled when asked about online harassment he’s faced in relation to prop bets — a type of sports betting that allows fans to wager how many rebounds or points an individual player may get.

“If you play a bad game, or even if you play a good game, you’re going to get social media comments or DMs about what they call a ‘sell it,’” he said. “[As in], ‘You’re selling me.’ But, I really don’t pay too much attention to it because I’m not playing for anybody’s parlays or anything. I’m playing to win the game.”

While Love may be able to tune out the messages — he said he receives “too many” — it may not be as simple for other college athletes. That's part of the reason NCAA President Charlie Baker called for a ban on collegiate prop bets in a statement released Wednesday.

Sports betting issues are on the rise across the country with prop bets continuing to threaten the integrity of competition and leading to student-athletes and professional athletes getting harassed,” Baker wrote.

You don’t have to look too far back in the news cycle to find cause for concern. Recent incidents include an NBA investigation into betting irregularities involving Toronto Raptors center Jontay Porter and a gambling investigation at Loyola Maryland. 

Hell, you don’t have to venture too far from Crypto.com Arena, the venue formerly known as Staples Center and West Regional host site, to find more examples. Less than three miles away sits Dodger Stadium. On Thursday, fans will marvel over two-way star Shohei Ohtani in the Dodgers home opener. But for now, Ohtani is ensnared in a gambling scandal involving his former interpreter.

And with the rapid professionalization of college sports — compounded by the recent launch of sports betting in North Carolina — the same impropriety filling hours of late night ESPN talk shows may trickle into the Triangle's prized export of college hoops.

“I think, for the collegiate level, prop betting in a sense is probably a little too much if we're considered ‘amateurs,’” UNC graduate center Armando Bacot said, adding air quotes around the word amateur.

North Carolina is in the minority of states that offer no prohibitions on player-specific collegiate prop bets. In fact, the state’s Sports Wagering Bill (House Bill 347) specifically permits all types of bets on in-state colleges.

The NCAA and several states are now looking to prohibit these bets due to the resulting harassment of athletes.

So, just how bad is the harassment? Bacot said he sees it “all the time.”

“After last game versus Michigan State, I guess I didn't hit the over, so I got probably over 100 DMs from people just telling me, ‘You suck’ and ‘You didn't hit the over,’” Bacot said with a laugh. “I get it because you come so close to something and you lose it, but at the same time too like, when you’re gambling you gotta realize those books weren’t built on people winning.”

Bacot said he doesn't have a strict stance on prop betting. After all, he is a businessman. He recognizes the pros and listed a few: increased attention and revenue.

It's true: The North Carolina Education Lottery Commission released its early projections of revenue and winnings from legalized sports betting on Wednesday. Bolstered by college basketball, $141 million was paid out in winnings on an estimated $198.1 million wagered in the first week of legal North Carolina sports betting.

As for the cons?

Threats. Unimaginable comments directed at athletes from anonymous burner accounts. And it’s not just social media, either. Bacot said he has people approach him “every single day about something.”

“Going to a school like North Carolina you never get a break,” Bacot said. “I'll order DoorDash and the driver will be like 'Man, you done messed up my parlay!' And I’m just like, 'Whatever. I’m sorry.'"

The graduate center, admittedly one of the more chronically online Tar Heels, isn’t the only UNC player who’s seen their social media inbox flooded with angry gamblers.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

Sophomore guard Seth Trimble said his DMs were “pretty full” after UNC played at Syracuse on Jan. 24, 2023. He missed two free throws at the end of the 72-68 win, which he thinks may have impacted some gamblers' spreads.

Naismith Player of the Year finalist RJ Davis said it's a universal athlete experience. 

Davis feels he does "a good job ignoring stuff like that.” Bacot finds it “honestly funny.” But for some coaches, like Clemson's Brad Brownell, it isn’t a joke.

People are extremely aggressive these days,” Brownell said. “We get phone calls in our office sometimes. When things obviously don't go a bettor's way, we get some nasty calls."

Brownell recognizes times are changing in his field. He understands the college game is professionalizing in a lot of ways. Name, image and likeness. The transfer portal. All the buzz words. In the inferno of college athletics management, the proliferation of prop betting is, as Brownell eloquently put it, “a whole ‘nother log on the fire.”

I'm a little more old school,” he said, “but it worries me tremendously.”

@shelbymswanson

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com 


Shelby Swanson

Shelby Swanson is the 2023-24 sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an assistant sports editor and senior writer. Shelby is a junior pursuing a double major in media and journalism and Hispanic literatures and cultures.