To many, the Supreme Court is an abstract concept. Known for its role in ruling on “life or death” issues, the court is also the highest court in the land and serves as the last stop for many matters. For sports fans, however, the Supreme Court is a real life drama that unfolds every year.
When Does the Court Meet?
As in most years, the Supreme Court convenes in October, and the first case it decides upon is the “hot” one of the season. That year, it’s the 2022 college football season, and the top court will meet in the fall to hear the challenges to the NCAA’s controversial new rules for college football betting. The last time the court heard a case involving sports betting was in May 2021, when the court issued a stay in a New Jersey sports betting case. With just 10 cases currently before the court (as of June 25, 2022), this may be the closest fans have ever come to watching the actual drama of the court.
How Does the Decision Affect You?
If the NCAA rules stand, the 2019 college football season is the final season of college football as we know it. The changes will affect more than just the game; they will change how the industry operates, who can play, and how much you’ll be able to make. If you’re a college football fan (or even just a sports fan in general), the decision to convene the court this year is huge. The NCAA’s final decision is expected in April 2022, but until then, the suspense continues.
What About the Professional Scene?
While the NCAA will only consider proposals that involve amateur competition, the professional sports world is also interested in sports betting and has already begun to adapt to the changing environment. The NBA has already begun experimenting with a variety of betting options, from over/under win totals to prop bets, and the results have been positive. With the NFL season already underway (the regular season began on Sept. 19), it’s time for the sports betting industry to take another look at how they can make the most of the changed environment and try to adapt. A number of sportsbooks have already begun experimenting with various forms of “pro-rated” betting: for example, early data suggests that a typical NFL game will have somewhere around 14 prop bets offered and settled, giving the professional sports betting world a glimpse of what the future of sports betting may look like.
Superseding Federal Law?
Even if the NCAA’s new rules stand, the legality of sports betting will continue to be in question. After all, while most states have legalized sports betting, it is still considered by some (including the federal government) to be an illegal activity. The Supreme Court is now the ultimate arbiter of what is or is not legal, and if the court decides that sports betting is indeed legal, the legal status of the practice may very well be superseded by judicial decree.
What About the Affected Parties?
As the name implies, the Supreme Court is the court of final appeal for the United States, and thus, if the court rules in favor of the NCAA, it will affect a number of parties. The most prominent of these parties will be the nearly 20 million American citizens who regularly follow NCAA football. If the court decides that the new rules that the NCAA proposed are not in line with the law, then the organization faces the possibility of being overturned by a higher court. The NCAA’s challenge will provide an interesting dynamic to the Supreme Court’s proceedings: a challenge by an association to a rule it proposed will likely draw more interest than a traditional case, as the court will want to prove to the public that it is capable of reviewing and overturning rules that it has itself proposed.
While the challenge to the NCAA does not explicitly pertain to the legalization of sports betting, it will have a significant impact upon the entire industry, as the court will want to send a strong message to the sports betting community at large that it is willing to consider new ideas and adapt to changing circumstances.
Keeping Up With The Times
If the last several years are any indication, the court will want to hear a case involving sports betting every other year, as it did in May 2021 with the stay in New Jersey vs. Aetna. The 2020 court met in the spring to hear a case involving NFL football betting, and the court will likely do the same in the fall of 2022. While most fans may not want to wait till next year to see what happens, these recurring procedural delays are quite typical of a court; having the decision delivered in October or November means that the affected parties can begin celebrating sooner rather than later.
The court may also issue a decision in the 2022 NCAA case without ever having to convene. The last time this occurred was in August 2021, when the court considered a number of petitions filed by the states of New Jersey and West Virginia and decided against lifting the ban on sports betting. This year’s case may be decided the same way, as there have been no new petitions filed since the court’s decision in May 2022. In this scenario, it will be up to the court’s discretion as to whether or not to issue a decision at this time. The court is not bound to issue a decision in each and every case it hears, especially considering that there are already 10 cases pending before the court. This case may be a bit more interesting than others as the court will have a decision in a state level case that directly pertains to the ban on sports betting. There has been no new case activity in this specific area since the court decided against lifting the ban in August 2021. If the court does not want to make a decision at this time, it has the ability to decline without prejudice and allow the lower court to rule on what happens next. In this way, the court can keep both cases (at least temporarily) without having to decide which one to hear first. This is the type of juggling that courts are expected to do, and with less than a year to go before the next sports betting case is due, it’s not hard to imagine the court continuing to deal with this issue.