This week’s fantasy college football previews have been posted, and some of the suggested buys are Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott and Baylor wide receiver Jay Lee. You can always play LSU running back Leonard Fournett, but he’s going to cost you.
Build your college lineup through FanDuel and DraftKings, follow the games and start over against next weekend. It’s part of a daily fantasy sports industry that is expected to be worth $2.6 billion in entry fees this year.
The pros dominate the fantasy market, but college football interest has grown with no-huddle spread speed. College officials, like teams trying to defend the hurry-up attack, scramble to keep up with the changes.
But over the past few weeks, power conference commissioners have voiced their concern. The Southeastern Conference said in late September it wanted DraftKings and FanDuel advertising off the SEC Network. Same with the Pac-12 and its network.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said last month his league has been “wrestling with all the issues around DraftKings and FanDuel, which I don’t think anybody can suggest isn’t gambling.”
That’s the crux of the issue for the colleges. Is fantasy football a form of gambling or a game of skill?
Enough of the gambling element — money exchanges hands based on the performance of an athlete and outcomes outside of your control — exists to spook the colleges.
Oliver Luck, the former West Virginia athletic director and now NCAA Executive Vice President for Regulatory affairs, has told NCAA members that student-athletes who participate on either site risk losing their eligibility.
Some signals are mixed. You’ll see the fantasy sports sites advertised during Big 12 football games. The league doesn’t have its own network, but there is a provision in contracts with networks that prohibits gambling-related ads.
There’s enough of a gray area to allow the advertisement, and there’s this: The Big 12 wants every dollar it can make from its television partners to return to its members. To make the numbers work, TV partners ESPN and Fox accept the advertising from the fantasy sites.
Although there could be some short-term ad-time pullback in light of the insider trading scandal reported by The New York Times this week, media analysts have said DraftKings and FanDuel have spent more than $150 million in TV and web ads in the past three months.
Colleges are right to raise the caution flags.
Fantasy sports have been around for decades. If you as a sports fan haven’t participated, you know somebody who has and have been bored to tears by lineup-changing stories.
That didn’t seem like gambling, even as you emptied the wallet. Bookies weren’t involved, and nothing resembled the type of point-shaving wagering scandals that has ruined programs.
But FanDuel, DraftKings and similar sites clearly benefit from an unintended consequence. In July 2006, Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which shut down online poker and sports betting in the United States.
But that legislation specifically legalized fantasy sports under enough conditions, including having the outcome of the contest must reflect “the relative knowledge and skill of the participants.”
That is, if you think Baylor’s Seth Russell is going to light up Kansas this weekend, start him on your fantasy team this weekend.
The fantasy sports provision was supported by pro sports leagues and the NCAA. Nobody saw the future of daily fantasy sports, where customers compete against other, with the site serving as an exchange that takes fees.
DraftKings and FanDuel had a bad week, with a DraftKings employee having access to nonpublic information from FanDuel that give him a better shot at winning $350,000.
Public trust was violated, and in this moment college officials’ concerns are founded. A comfort level with this mushrooming industry may never be found.