NCAA Takes Aim At Curbing Gambling-Related Harassment Of Athletes

The NCAA announced efforts to address the effects of sports betting on college athletics. It will launch an initiative to study and monitor online abuse of participants in the 2023-24 NCAA championships.

With the aim to “promote the mental health and well-being of the college sports community,” the NCAA hired artificial intelligence and data science company Signify to collect and analyze data about online abuse and threats targeting student-athletes, coaches and officials. The initiative will begin sometime this month. December NCAA Division I championships include men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball.

As North Carolina advances towards the launch of legal online sports betting, responsible gambling regulations such as these should inform the decision of NC sports betting regulators.

Providing broader protection for student-athletes

With the rise in the number of states that have legalized sports betting in recent years, online harassment of student-athletes has also increased. Social media abuse is a serious issue, and athletes who play popular sports at elite institutions are regularly on the receiving end of abuse by irresponsible bettors. Overzealous fans who lose wagers often express their frustrations directly at athletes and coaches via social media.

A recent NCAA study revealed that at least ten percent of Division I college administrators were aware of instances of students being harassed online or in person by individuals with gambling interests. Gamblers who lose prop bets during games make athletes especially vulnerable. Some states have banned prop betting on college sports.

The NCAA will use data collected by Signify to help revise policies to help combat harassment.

“This is a first-of-its-kind project in college sports focusing on online abuse and threats while arming social platforms and law enforcement to take action to protect thousands of student-athletes and all championship participants,” NCAA President Charlie Baker said. “This pilot is just the start of much broader online protection measures the NCAA will implement to guide our longer-term strategy in this crucial space.”

Using a Threat Matrix to detect and combat online abuse

Signify uses a Threat Matrix to detect abusive behavior across social media platforms X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, and TikTok. The company’s clients include FIFA, Wimbledon, MLS, the WNBA, La Liga and other sports organizations. The World Rugby Cup used the service this fall in France.

During the 2020-21 Premier League season, the company analyzed 6 million social media postings. It pinpointed thousands of threatening posts that were reported and removed. In some cases, the authors of the posts became the subject of criminal investigations.

For the NCAA, Signify will collect publicly available data to find online abuse related to sports betting. The company uses artificial intelligence and human review to flag and report harassing individuals.

Specifically, the company will provide the following services to the NCAA:

– Monitoring, detection and analysis of the levels of abuse and threat in over 35 languages as well as images and emojis.

– Analysis of abuse related to sports betting.

– Reporting procedures for notifying key stakeholders, including involved individuals and teams, local organizers, law enforcement and social media platforms.

– Directing coordination with social media platforms to report abuses and encourage removal of content and other appropriate sanctioning of account holders.

– Providing data to support the Association’s understanding of the scale and nature of online abuse and threats in college sports, as well as informing future educational and policy developments.

What is North Carolina doing to protect college athletes?

“College students in general have up to two to three times higher risk of developing a problem gambling addiction than adults older than college age,” according to the NCAA. The sports body bans betting by college athletes, and the legal age for gambling in North Carolina is 21. Tens of thousands of community members are over 21 and not involved in athletics. That large population sector could include bettors who harass athletes online and in person.

The North Carolina Lottery Commission has a Jan. 8 deadline to finalize rules to govern the launch of sports betting. The commission has yet to address prop bets on college sports. Prop bets are included in the current catalog of wagerable sports and bets in the state. However, the state has launched a college-focused responsible gaming program to roll out to four universities in 2024.

In addition, all college students have access to a free online sports betting e-learning module the NCAA launched in October. The module includes a section on how student-athletes should handle social media harassment from gamblers.

There are 46 NCAA member institutions in the state of North Carolina. It remains to be seen if the NCLC will piggyback on the NCAA initiatives to provide more resources and regulations deterring sports betting-related harassment of athletes.


Image Credit: Ben McKeown / AP Images

About the Author

Cheryl Coward

Cheryl Coward started her career as a news reporter in Washington, DC. She's a die-hard women's basketball fan and founded the website as a result of that passion. She loves writing about sports on all levels and has previous experience covering sports betting regulations, operator marketing campaigns and women's sports gambling topics.