Perhaps Big 12 Conference Commissioner Brett Yormark’s use of a common blackjack phrase was perfect when he discussed the conference’s expanded agreement with a gambling education and monitoring firm while visiting the Texas Tech campus Wednesday.
The Big 12 announced a partnership with U.S. Integrity on Wednesday that will give conference schools the tools to monitor athletes, coaches and staff regarding sports betting through its Prohibet software. The new agreement is an expansion of one that was signed in 2019, when the conference started using the firm as its primary gambling education consultant.
The expansion comes on the heels of gambling investigations at two Big 12 programs. In the past couple of months, four Iowa State football players and one Oklahoma State team member have been charged with illegal sports wagering. Iowa State defensive tackle Isaiah Lee allegedly placed 26 wagers on 12 Cyclones football games. One alleged bet was against his own team when it played Texas in 2021. Betting on any sport the NCAA sponsors is prohibited for athletics personnel and student-athletes, even if the pros play it.
“Given what’s going on in the landscape, we decided effectively to double-down and increase our participation with U.S. Integrity and provide some benefits for all of our members so we can help them in their efforts not only to educate but to monitor,” Yormark told reporters in Lubbock on Wednesday.
Brett Yormark on the Big 12 announcement today about upping its partnership with U.S. Integrity, to prevent athletes, coaches and staff from engaging in prohibited sports wagering: pic.twitter.com/DnUAv2tEIA
— Don Williams (@AJ_DonWilliams) August 24, 2023
During Big 12 media days in July, Yormark discussed the Iowa State investigation and the sports betting education that needed to be done to help the conference’s student-athletes.
“It’s a big focus of our member institutions,” Yormark said. “We need to educate our student-athletes. But it’s not just our student-athletes. It’s our coaches. It’s really the whole ecosystem, including our officials.”
What it means to Texas athletes
Even though sports betting in Texas is currently illegal, the national proliferation of legalized wagering in other states has ramped up the gambling education efforts for University of Texas athletes.
In addition to the NCAA’s “Don’t Bet On It” website, which offers plenty of tools for education, Texas offers its athletes in-person classes during orientation and at the end of every season. Coaches and personnel undergo the same training and receive repeated reminders of the rules throughout the year.
When reached Wednesday for a comment regarding the U.S. Integrity deal, a University of Texas athletics representative declined to comment.
The Texas athletics department also carved out room for sports betting regulations in its six-page student-athlete code of conduct that’s signed annually.
“Participation includes a student-athlete’s direct involvement in placing a wager or providing information to assist another individual in placing a wager,” the code of conduct reads in regard to the prohibition of sports betting.
History of Texas athletics gambling and education
Texas athletics has had a fairly robust program of education of its student-athletes going back to the mid-2000s. In 2007, the Longhorns invited Michael Franzese, a former capo in New York’s Colombo organized crime family, to speak to athletes and coaches about the problems with sports betting.
Franzese’s seminar went into the depths of the illegal gambling underworld, and he provided student-athletes with an idea of how they are often targeted for scams.
At the time, then-Texas Athletics Director Deloss Dodds discussed the importance of gambling education for his athletes.
“There’s so much more to it than kids think,” Dodds said in 2007. “To have [Franzese] come in and tell the other side opens the window and lets all the information in for what kids can do and what is happening out there that impacts sports.”
In 1990, members of the Longhorns football team were investigated for illegal gambling as one squad member was accused of being the team’s bookie, carrying black betting books to football practices and team meetings.
In addition to education on sports betting restrictions, athletes are also counseled on keeping any information such as suspensions and injuries in house as both of those situations may affect the betting line of a contest.
“From an adult standpoint and a coaching standpoint, we know the rules, and the rules are the rules,” Texas women’s basketball head coach Vic Schaefer told Inside Texas in May. “As far as our kids, we educate our kids from day one.”
About U.S. Integrity
Founded in 2017, Las Vegas-based U.S. Integrity monitors betting lines, social media and other data that could indicate something is amiss. The company can identify suspicious behavior by analyzing changes in betting data against a benchmark of normal wagering activity, according to its website.
“We track every single ref in college football. You can see every penalty and what its impact was on the game,” owner Matthew Holt told the Las Vegas Sun in 2019. “We’re looking for suspicious activity and what connections there might be with that activity.”
Over the past six years, the company has partnered with the MLB, NBA, UFC and the PGA Tour. It works with FanDuel and DraftKings and inked its first big college deal with the Southeastern Conference in 2018. Since then, it has added the Big 12, Pac-12 and the Big West as clients in its portfolio. In April, the firm joined the American Gaming Association’s “Have A Game Plan,” a public service campaign that will promote responsible gambling to U.S. Integrity’s network of professional and collegiate sports properties.