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Harvard, Local Universities Oppose College Sports Gambling in Letter to State House

Massachusetts Hall, an administrative building, is located in Harvard Yard.
Massachusetts Hall, an administrative building, is located in Harvard Yard. By Megan M. Ross
By Michelle G. Kurilla and Ema R. Schumer, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard and six other local colleges and universities opposed a bill that would legalize college sports betting in a Friday letter to Massachusetts state legislators.

The presidents and athletic directors of Boston College, Boston University, the College of the Holy Cross, Merrimack College, Northeastern University, the University of Massachusetts, and Harvard University signed onto the letter, which was addressed to Massachusetts Senate President Karen E. Spilka, Speaker of the House Robert A. DeLeo, Senator Michael J. Rodrigues, Senator Eric P. Lesser ’07, Senator Patrick M. O’Connor, Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante, Representative Aaron Michlewitz, and Representative Donald H. Wong.

The signatories of the letter, including University President Lawrence S. Bacow and Harvard Athletics Director Erin McDermott, expressed their opposition to a provision in House Bill 4887 — a bill introduced to spur economic development in the Commonwealth — that seeks to legalize sports betting, including on college athletics competitions. The House of Representatives voted in favor of the provision in late July, though the Senate voted against amendments that would have included the provision in the legislation.

“Based on our years of experience, each of us believes that such legislation will create unnecessary and unacceptable risks to student athletes, their campus peers, and the integrity and culture of colleges and universities in the Commonwealth,” the letter reads.

University administrators laid out their opposition to legalized college betting on the grounds that it could compromise the integrity of student-athlete competition, promote unhealthy and financially risky habits among students, and deplete limited university resources.

“Easy access to placing bets can lead to bad decisions and even addictive behavior in regard to making wagers on ‘big games,’ creating mental health and financial problems for students and their families,” the letter reads.

Legalized gambling could impose pressure on student-athletes to sway game outcomes, the letter cautions.

“Student athletes could be persuaded that agreeing to limit scoring or committing an ‘unforced’ error would not really matter,” they wrote. “But doing so clearly harms personal and institutional values, has no place in college sports, and, as history shows, often leads to more corrupt and unethical actions.”

Gambling on college sports could also incentivize students to share information regarding their classmates who are varsity athletes — including their health and playing status — with gamblers who would benefit from such knowledge, according to the letter.

They wrote that, on an institutional level, the legalization of gambling in college sports would financially strain university resources as schools enforce athletics policies. They added university leaders would have to “devote more scarce time and resources to protecting the brand, values, image, and reputation of their schools.”

“We recognize that during the current difficult economic climate, the Legislature desires to develop new sources of revenue, including sports wagering,” the letter concludes. “But like other states, Massachusetts can gain those benefits without legalizing college sports betting. Such a limitation is necessary to safeguard the longstanding distinctive role and contribution of student-athletes as well as to preserve the integrity of intercollegiate athletics in the Commonwealth.”

—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at michelle.kurilla@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.

—Staff writer Ema R. Schumer can be reached at ema.schumer@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @emaschumer.

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