If you are a student-athlete, you might not want to bet on it.
That is the message from University coaches, captains and athletic department officials as part of an NCAA campaign against sports gambling by varsity players. The NCAA timed its warning to coincide with the beginning of the men's basketball tournament, which prompted fans across the country to wager $2.5 billion in 1995.
Only weeks after students at Columbia were charged with organizing a betting ring, the problem of gambling has raised particular concern at Ivy League schools.
"It's probably hit home this year in ways that it hasn't hit home in other years," said Associate Director of Athletics George VanderZwaag, who is responsible for compliance with NCAA rules.
"We owe it to ourselves to do everything we can to educate students and coaches about the gambling problem," he explained.
VanderZwaag said that he did not know of any incidents involving Princeton athletes. However, the NCAA web page cites a study of 648 Division I football and men's basketball players that found that 3.7 percent of the athletes had bet on their own games and 25.5 percent of them had bet on other college sporting events.
The NCAA, worried that any gambling by players could lead to point-shaving scandals, is pressing member schools to enforce its rules against any sports betting. VanderZwaag said the NCAA has emphasized gambling prevention in recent years.
This year, VanderZwaag's office has received even more mailings than usual both from the NCAA and from the Ivy League. He has passed on the information to athletes and coaches, he said.
This emphasis on preventing gambling prompted the NCAA to require all teams in the tournament to watch a seven-minute video about gambling.
Even teams not headed to Hartford have discussed the issue. Football player Hamin Abdullah '00 said that head coach Steve Tosches warned the football team not to enter tournament pools, and baseball coach Scott Bradley said that he has spoken with his team about the issue.
Lacrosse player John Hess '98, president of the varsity student athlete advisory committee, added that a warning against betting was listed on an athletics department flier as the Ivy League's "compliance tip of the week."
"I think it's good to be aware. It's a 'better safe than sorry' kind of a thing," Hess said.
A number of Columbia students defied the "better safe than sorry" advice. Junior Joseph Della Pietra, a former varsity baseball player, was arrested and charged with running a betting ring Feb. 5.
Beyond Columbia, the NCAA said that the problem affects student-athletes around the nation. "Big money attracts organized crime, and illegal sports wagering is big money," the association's web page says, "Student-athletes are viewed by organized crime and organized gambling as easy marks."