Watch any of the weekend’s college football games and it’s hard to go even 30 minutes without seeing a commercial for upstart sites DraftKings and FanDuel.
As a debate intensifies about whether the loosely regulated industry should be considered gambling, the ads are creating an uncomfortable association for the NCAA, which has strict rules for its players on sports wagering.
But the sites — which allow participants to pay an entry fee for a chance to earn payouts that can top $1 million — are perfectly legal for now in most states and dumping millions into advertising during college games.
Many in the NCAA — including Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby — have made their position crystal clear.
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“It’s impossible to convince me that it’s not gambling,” Bowlsby said.
A possible showdown is brewing for after the season when NCAA and conference executives are expected to see how — or even if — they can curtail the advertising or keep the sites from offering games that focus on college athletics. Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork said the avalanche of daily fantasy sports advertising has quickly turned the topic into a pressing issue.
“My 9-year-old son is asking me every day about it,” Bjork said. “It’s all over television and even on his iPad. They’re obviously doing a great job of marketing, but it’s a concern.”
Participants on DraftKings and FanDuel can compete in games involving NFL or college players, paying an entry fee that goes into a larger pool. Then they try to assemble teams that earn the most points based on real-life stats in a given period of time with a certain percentage of top finishers earning a payout.
Entry fees on DraftKings range from 25 cents to over $5,000. Some prizes top $1 million. DraftKings and FanDuel say the sites provide games of skill and not of chance and are subsequently protected by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act established in 2006, which has language protecting fantasy sports.
The games are legal in 45 states.
The Southeastern Conference has already banned daily fantasy site ads on its network as of Sept. 1. The SEC gets a little more say in its own network even though it’s owned by ESPN.
“They did say (cutting daily fantasy ads) would impact some revenue for us, and we were willing to take that impact because we did not want it on the SEC Network,” Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said earlier this year.
But the SEC also has plenty of programming on ESPN’s regular network of channels and CBS. Other leagues have other arrangements.
Asking them to remove the advertising on their stations — and the ample amount of money that comes with it — is not nearly as simple. After all, it’s legal.
“All those games that exist currently don’t meet some definition of gambling though intuitively it might seem otherwise,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said.
Said ACC commissioner John Swofford: “It’s a complicated issue on all fronts and it seems to be getting more complicated.”
Still, the Football Bowl Subdivision commissioners are trying to apply pressure wherever they can. The 10 leagues have already sent a letter to DraftKings and FanDuel asking that they discontinue using college athletes in their games.
“In this arena we are concerned about the potential impact on the integrity of the game,” NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said. “And we are concerned about the messaging that these games might send that’s inconsistent with what the membership has articulated as its bylaws and restrictions around sports wagering.”
It’s not just the NCAA that is concerned. A New Jersey congressman has asked for a hearing on the legal status of daily fantasy sports and more scrutiny was directed toward the industry after a DraftKings employee won $350,000 by finishing in second place in a game on FanDuel. Some feel he might have had inside information though nothing has been proven.
Compliance departments at NCAA schools have also taken notice, making sure athletes understand that sites like DraftKings and FanDuel constitute sports wagering in the NCAA’s eyes. A first offense for wagering on sports earns a one-year ban. A second offense means a lifetime ban.
Nebraska’s senior associate athletic director for compliance, Jamie Vaughn, said he’s worried athletes might become desensitized to sites like DraftKings and FanDuel and lines will be blurred.
“When you first watch a commercial and you’ve never heard of a company or a concept, it gets your attention and you kind of wonder about it,” Vaughn said. “Over time, it becomes normal.”
AP Sports Writers Ralph Russo, Stephen Hawkins, Aaron Beard, Kurt Voigt, Eric Olson and John Zenor contributed to this story.
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org.