North Dakota’s Collegiate Athletes Wouldn’t Be So Susceptible to Gamblers if They Weren’t (Basically) Free Labor

North Dakota State's Aaron Steidl (63) is swarmed by his teammates, Brian Schaetz, (61), Greg Menard (96) and Brad Ambrosius (97) after sacking University of North Dakota quarterback Keaton Studsrud Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, on Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. David Samson / The Forum

Collegiate sports is a big business.

A business which helps pay the very large salaries of coaches and university bureaucrats. Even here in North Dakota, people like coaches and athletic directors and university presidents make deep into the six-figure territory.

It’s an industry. One heavily subsidized by taxpayers, and built on the back of what amounts to almost free labor.

So I got a laugh when North Dakota University Chancellor Mark Hagerott, who makes $372,000 per year plus benefits, decided to testify against legislation under consideration in Bismarck which would legalize sports betting in North Dakota for both professional and collegiate competitions.

NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott testified against the bill when it went before a Senate committee Thursday, days after conferring with campus presidents who were unanimous in their opposition to the proposal. He said in an interview afterward that student athletes are “vulnerable” in part because of their accessibility to people who would bet on games.

“We would like to protect the student athletes here,” Hagerott said.

As the article notes, Hagerott submitted his testimony after conferring with university presidents like NDSU’s Dean Bresciani ($354,000 per year) and UND’s Mark Kennedy ($365,000 per year).

There’s no question that collegiate sports athletes are vulnerable to temptation when it comes to what gambling interests might offer to manipulate outcomes. Heck, even professional athletes are susceptible, as history shows.

But there’s something awfully grody about a bunch of lavishly compensated administrators coming together to protect mostly uncompensated student athletes from the machinations of gamblers.

Which isn’t an endorsement of rigging sporting competitions, mind you, but a request that we zoom out from the narrow question of sports betting for a moment and look at the overall situation.

Collegiate sports are a racket. Lucrative for coaches and university administrators and media companies, but how much of all that do the players get to share in?

They might create some good memories, and earn some on-field glory. And many of them get scholarships which cover some or all of their cost of getting a degree, which isn’t nothing.

But c’mon. These sports programs aren’t really operated for the benefit of the players, and honest observers know it.

I suspect the university bureaucrats are less opposed to the prospect of gambling than they’re just looking for a cut.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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