published Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

College golfers' gambling a concern

It's a touchy subject.

Yet it's an inherent part of golf with mentions in the official USGA and R&A rules.

Gambling.

"It's part of our culture more than for any other student-athlete," said Alabama men's golf coach Jay Seawell, whose team won the NCAA Division I championship last month. "Kids are part of a country club, and that's why more do it more than any other sport."

The NCAA recently released its latest four-year study of wagering activity. Overall results, the release said, reveal an overall decrease in gambling habits of student-athletes.

But something stood.

"Gambling remains problematic in golf, likely due to the pervasive culture of on-course wagering on the sport," according to the NCAA release. "Golfer student-athletes (males in particular) across all three NCAA divisions are significantly more likely to engage in virtually every gabbling activity assessed compared to other student-athletes."

Gambling is not an issue the NCAA takes lightly, and it can impact an athlete's eligibility if he or she is found to have wagered.

"I'm not a fool," Seawell said. "I'm sure they play a Nassau behind my back. But when we're doing Alabama stuff, we don't have anything to do with gambling. All of our competition is for spots on the team."

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's coach Mark Guhne has scheduled meetings with university officials to determine the definition of gambling.

What's an acceptable wager? Is playing for wind sprints acceptable? Is playing for push-ups acceptable? Is playing for toilet scrubs acceptable?

"We're not going to break any rule," Guhne said. "I'm not going to jeopardize my program, any golfer's eligibility or the school's reputation. We're adamant on that."

Seawell, Guhne and other college coaches concur that the NCAA is trying to protect the integrity of its competitions -- eliminate the possibility of point-shaving -- and prevent addictive gamblers rising from its ranks of student-athletes.

"I know that people can get into trouble because it's similar to any other illegal activity," Seawell said. "I worry that it can ruin lives."

The NCAA opposes all forms of legal and illegal wagering on college sports. It prohibits student-athletes, members of an athletic department, conference office and its own office -- according to NCAA.org -- from wagering on intercollegiate, amateur and professional sports in which the NCAA conducts championships. Basketball coaches and their families are prohibited from entering March Madness pools.

To Guhne's point, the NCAA defines sports wagering as putting something at risk in return for the opportunity to win something.

"The inherent history and nature of the game, people have always played for money or something," Guhne said. "We've played for wind sprints like any basketball coach or football coach. We've played for who has to clean the van, who has to do dishes. But I'm not sure we can do that anymore.

"I don't know where the line is being drawn."

Guhne said the line clearly has moved in recent years. It's certainly shifted toward the direction of no wagering of any kind since he began coaching nine seasons ago.

"We had team meetings way back about where I said, 'I can't have you guys playing for money,'" Guhne said. "But losing really started to matter when they had to scrub the bathroom with everybody else watching. The pressure to win became greater, which helped our players. As a coach, you try to help them handle pressure.

"It's going to be a lot more difficult to turn up the pressure if we can't play for chores of some kind."

Wagering is a common activity for country club golfers -- some with cars more expensive than a house in Red Bank -- and many college golfers come from that setting.

Of the about 23,000 student-athletes surveyed by the NCAA, 21.3 percent of Division I golfers admitted to betting on sports within the last month. Baseball players had the next-highest rate of betting on sports within a month at 9.3 percent.

"At least once a semester we have a speaker come in and talk about the perils of gambling," Seawell said. "We do everything we can to let them know about the illegality of gambling. We're very active about that at Alabama for all of our student-athletes."

Almost every school does the same.

Posters with a "Don't Bet on It" slogan have been slapped on the walls inside McKenzie Arena, reminding all Mocs not to wager in any way.

"I want to have further talks with our people and see what we can do," Guhne said. "Gambling is nothing to joke about."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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