Sports Betting Takes A Toll On NC Student-Athletes’ Mental Health, Report Finds

This past year, one in three high-profile NCAA athletes were targets of online abuse related to betting, according to Signify, a data science company hired by the NCAA to monitor sports betting-related harassment. With most of the 2023-24 championships completed by April, the NCAA released its first set of findings from Signify’s research.

The results come from analyzing social media postings using data science and artificial intelligence to flag threats directed at athletes, coaches, and championship committee members. Signify’s hiring is among the NCAA’s recent initiatives to support the mental well-being of student-athletes and educate them on responsible gambling.

Key findings from the 2023-24 season

Ninety percent of the abuse and threats targeting college athletes originated online via social media, the report found. Female athletes received approximately three times more threats than their male counterparts. Game officials and athletic department employees also received abusive messages.

Not surprisingly, the highest-profile sports, most notably basketball, had the highest volume of sports-betting-related harassment. During March Madness, Signify monitored over 1,000 Division I players, over 280 coaches, and 120 game officials.

The NCAA reported the following:

  • Across the Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships, over 54,000 posts/comments were flagged by Signify’s AI for potential abuse or threats and reviewed by human in-house analysts.
  • Of those 54,000, 4,000 were confirmed to be abusive or threatening and reported to the relevant social media platforms, with some elevated to law enforcement.
  • More than 540 abusive betting-related messages were directed at men’s and women’s basketball student-athletes, including death threats.

With the help of Signify, the NCAA will offer athletic departments risk management services to help protect students and game officials.

Online abuse of North Carolina’s Armando Bacot used as an example

In its preliminary report on Signify’s data, the NCAA used the betting-related abuse received by North Carolina men’s basketball player Armando Bacot as an example of what student-athletes experience and the toll it takes on their mental health.

Bacot, who called the online abuse “terrible,” began receiving angry messages from bettors just 12 days after North Carolina online sports betting went live, during the height of March Madness. Much of the harassment was related to prop bets based on Bacot’s in-game performance, such as how many rebounds he collected.

NCAA president urging states to  ban college prop bets

This year, NCAA president Charlie Baker is on a mission to get states to ban prop bets on college events. He has had some success, especially with his efforts to ban the activity in Ohio. Earlier this year, he sent a letter to the Ohio Casino Control Commission outlining his stance.

“The data is clear that student-athletes are getting harassed by bettors. Sports betting without appropriate controls poses real risks to the well-being of student-athletes and to the integrity of collegiate competition — risks which are heightened by individual prop bets.”

A month later, Ohio banned college prop bets. Other states followed suit, including Maryland, Louisiana, and Virginia. The NCAA is encouraging students who want to ban college prop bets to join the organization’s efforts.

In North Carolina, college prop bets are not prohibited. According to experts, the North Carolina State Lottery Commission is unlikely to change its regulations soon.

“The process of changing the sports betting law could take significant time to propose and pass regulations,” C.J. Fisher, co-chair of the Gaming Department at the Fox Rothschild law firm, told NCSharp.

College athletes in North Carolina have access to resources to help them cope with sports betting issues. The NCAA offers a free online sports betting e-learning module. In addition, the state’s lottery commission partnered with EPIC Risk Management to bring responsible gambling training to four universities this year.

North Carolina college prop bans likely going nowhere

This spring, two state lawmakers, both Democrats, put forward bills to outlaw prop bets on college games as a way to provide more responsible gambling framework around collegiate sports.

Rep. Marcia Morey and Sen. Julie Mayfield introduced identical bills on May 1 that would prohibit bets on individual statistics in college and amateur sporting events. The measures, House Bill 967 and Senate Bill 788,  would also outlaw retail sports betting at sports facilities eight hours before college games, a preemptive measure that targets PNC Arena, the home of NC State men’s basketball. The venue is one of eight in the state authorized to have a retail sportsbook.

Both bills are sitting in committees after a first reading but have no real chance of passage this year. Morey and Mayfield voted against legalizing sports betting last year. Morey, a former NCAA champion swimmer, told WCN that she is worried about the effect of prop bets on players.

“I’m a former Olympic athlete, [and] I’m worried about that,” she said. “I’m worried about the pressure it puts on athletes. Go ahead and bet on teams, bet on the win, the loss, whatever, but the individual athlete’s performance goes a step too far.”


Image Credit: Ryan Sun / 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.