University of Colorado at Boulder has recently fired its latest head football coach and hired Deion Sanders to replace him. Sanders is coming off admirable success as coach of Jackson State University, compiling a three-year record of 27 to 6.
One of his goals was to bring much deserved attention to historic black colleges and universities. Mission accomplished. However, he quickly jumped to CU to accept a $6 million salary offer and another $5 million to hire his staff. There is no surprise here. Coaches need to move on to better situations, if they choose to do so.
But several of his players at Jackson State will be following him to CU, including his son the quarterback. Recruiting players from your previous school to your next was considered tampering and a National Collegiate Athletic Association violation, when I coached in the ’90s.
Even more disturbing is that CU has changed its transfer rules to allow easier admission standards for incoming athlete transfers. This was a stipulation of Sanders accepting his new job. The transfer portal, in which athletes can now transfer to a different school without penalty, has dramatically changed recruiting. CU jumped on the Coach Prime bandwagon and allowed this change of policy after having previously stating it would not compromise its rules.
Add to this, the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision to let states legalize gambling has opened double barn-sized doors for sports gambling. Gambling companies have been racing to convert casino customers, fantasy sports enthusiasts and online gamers into a new generation of digital gamblers. This includes students on campuses across the country.
Prior to hiring Sanders, CU had already become the first NCAA program to sign a sports betting deal. In 2020, the university entered into a five-year $1.625 million deal with Caesars online betting app PointsBet. In addition, the college received an extra $30 referral fee each time a student downloaded the company’s app and placed a bet.
“It’s appalling for the university to be collecting a bounty each time a student places a first bet,” said Jennifer Hendricks, a law professor at the school. “The university is trying to exploit our students for profit.”
This deal promotes gambling to CU students and even targets illegal underage (under 21) students. Most college students’ brains are not yet fully developed, and they are prone to impulsive behavior. Gambling can become an addiction. Further enticements consist of the “first bets are free,” ploy sometimes up to $2,000. Due to backlash, an amendment was made and CU will no longer receive the $30 fee when a student signs up to use PointsBet.
Often these deals with universities are struck in the dark without campus-wide discussion or consideration. At CU, Seth Hornstein, the chairman of the committee overseeing the athletic department, didn’t know about the PointsBet deal until he saw a release announcing it. “That was a little bit shocking,” Hornstein said.
Colorado’s Board of Regents didn’t learn of the $1.6 million PointsBet deal “until maybe a couple of hours before the initial announcement was made,” recalled board member Jack Kroll.
Many student-athletes already receive harsh messages on social media after games. Can you imagine the messages that will come when a spectator has bet – and lost – a relatively large sum of money? Unlike professional athletes, student-athletes share dorms, classes and attend parties with classmates who wager on their games.
Does promoting gambling on campus or bargaining away academic standards fit the mission of higher education? Who is running our CU? Wrong question. What is running our university? Dollars.
Jim Cross is a retired Fort Lewis College professor and basketball coach.