On Thursday, the University of Alabama announced that it had fired head baseball coach Brad Bohannon for “violating the standards, duties, and responsibilities expected of university employees.” Bohannon’s firing is linked to a widespread investigation into suspicious sports betting activity on the Crimson Tide’s game against LSU early last week. This appears to be the first major gambling scandal in college athletics since a Supreme Court decision in 2018 allowed states to legalize wagering on sporting events.
Regulators in Ohio stopped all betting on Alabama baseball games on Monday after receiving information about two suspicious wagers made three days earlier. The tip came from an independent Las Vegas-based firm, U.S. Integrity, which works with the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) and the SEC (home of both Alabama and LSU) to monitor the sports betting market. In 2018, the SEC contracted with U.S. Integrity and has since used the company to oversee gambling activity related to conference events. According to the OCCC, the alleged nefarious acts took place Friday at the sportsbook located on the grounds of Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. However, the Reds were on a road trip and playing in Oakland at the time of the incident. The OCCC claims that the two bets came from the same customer, both of which included LSU wins.
Louisiana’s Gaming Control Board regulators were also alerted. Chairman Ronnie Johns said that he and his board began tracking the situation after Ohio decided to restrict sportsbooks from taking bets on Alabama baseball. Johns stated that one bet “was on a parlay which involved the LSU-Alabama game,” while the other was a “straight-up (money line)” wager on the Tigers. LSU had favorable odds as -245 favorites for the contest. Johns characterized the stakes placed on LSU as “large.” A review of the situation led Johns to conclude that there was “definitely no suspicious activity on the part of LSU” and “no reason to believe any student-athletes are involved.”
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Indiana followed suit by suspending Alabama baseball from their books. Matthew Holt, the President of U.S. Integrity, asserted that these “more experienced” states have learned that the safest decision is to pull specific betting options off their boards when there are potential issues such as the misuse of insider information or irregular betting trends. U.S. Integrity helps states make this call by analyzing real-time data, odds, and online chatter occurring on social media and other popular gambling websites. In most states, sportsbooks are required to work with independent supervisors.
Crimson Tide sophomore pitcher Luke Holman was scheduled to start Friday’s game against the Tigers, but he was scratched after experiencing back tightness. According to the University of Alabama’s game recap, sophomore reliever Hagan Banks was told “an hour before” first-pitch that he would be starting in Holman’s place. Holman is an ace who leads the team’s starting pitchers in strikeouts and earned run average. Banks, on the other hand, had not started a game in over a month and he was suddenly slotted to face the number-one team in the country. LSU jumped out to an 8-1 lead and survived five unanswered Alabama runs to secure the 8-6 victory.
ESPN reported that the Cincinnati-based BetMGM Sportsbook captured surveillance video of a person making the suspicious bets on LSU while speaking with Bohannon on the phone. The unidentified man who placed these wagers is allegedly a former high school baseball coach.
College baseball typically sees little regular-season betting action. In fact, FanDuel declared that it did not take a single bet on the game. Other popular sportsbooks also reported minimal or no betting on the LSU-Alabama matchup. There are normally limits on the amount you can risk for a single college baseball game. Mobile gambling apps ordinarily confine wagers to somewhere around $500. However, those same rules do not apply in person for cash transactions. This explains why the man was able to place substantial stakes on an LSU win. While gambling on inside information is not regulated by a federal governing body like it is for financial markets, leaking this kind of information to outside parties as a coach, staff member, or player can still have severe consequences. For example, former NBA referee Tim Donaghy was sentenced to 15 months in jail for conspiring to fix games with a bookie during his last two seasons on the job.
Former Alabama Crimson Tide Head Baseball Coach Brad Bohannon – Image from USA Today
NCAA policy prohibits athletes, coaches, and athletic department personnel from gambling. According to the organization’s website, the rules explicitly forbid those parties “from providing information to individuals involved in or associated with any type of sports wagering activities concerning intercollegiate, amateur, or professional athletics competition.”
Some conferences, such as the SEC, began partnering with integrity firms even before legalized sports betting became prevalent. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey issued a statement reminding the public “of the threats gambling may pose to competitive integrity”, and he reiterated the conference’s zero-tolerance policy on sports betting. The SEC has since launched its own investigation into the situation to determine just how widespread these violations may be.
Bohannon, age 47, most recently spent the 2014-15 seasons as an assistant coach at Kentucky and the 2016-17 seasons at Auburn prior to taking the head coach position at Alabama. He played college baseball at Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, and Berry College before beginning his collegiate coaching career as an assistant at Wake Forest in 2001. Athletic Director Greg Byrne hired Bohannon in June of 2017, less than five months after arriving in Tuscaloosa from the University of Arizona. Bohannon was one of Byrne’s first significant hires in his new role.
Alabama had a 166-124 record and one NCAA tournament appearance under Bohannon’s command. Additionally, 20 Crimson Tide players were selected in the MLB draft during his tenure. The team was 30-15 overall and 9-12 in the SEC at the time of Bohannon’s termination.
Jason Jackson will serve as Alabama’s interim head coach. In the first game under Jackson’s leadership, the Crimson Tide defeated Vanderbilt 11-2. Last month, Bohannon, Jackson, and an athletic trainer named Sean Stryker were sued by a former player over the way they allegedly handled his injuries. Johnny Blake Bennett accused the three men of mishandling a rib injury he suffered in 2019 before being diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a group of disorders that occur when blood vessels or nerves in the space between your collarbone and your first rib are compressed. Bennett contends that Bohannon revoked his scholarship while he was rehabbing the injury.
Given that the sports betting incident occurred in Cincinnati and Bohannon’s role as head coach, many people will recall Pete Rose’s strict punishment for gambling on baseball. Rose was banned from the MLB and deemed permanently ineligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame because he bet on the Reds to win while serving as the team’s manager. The difference is that Bohannon wagered against his own team.
Historically, college athletics has had its share of gambling-related scandals, including point-shaving in basketball and football where the final scores of games were improperly impacted. Until now, all known offenses came before the 2018 Supreme Court decision that paved the way for states to legalize sports betting. The Alabama case is an example of the benefits of legitimate wagering, regulation, a relatively transparent marketplace, and detailed data collection.
For the past five years, individual NCAA leaders and conferences alike have searched for ways to increase integrity protections while also tapping into lucrative revenue streams. The Mid-American Conference (MAC) was the first to buy in, licensing the rights to its data and statistics to Genius Sports, a company that will then sell the information to sportsbooks. There is hope that data collection and extensive monitoring will uncover more abnormal or illegal activity in the future. Only time will tell whether the NCAA and its conferences placed a good bet. The extent of Bohannon’s scheme will be an early indicator of the possible prevalence of a larger problem, the ability to accurately identify red flags, and the likelihood of catching wrongdoers in the act.
Brad Bohannon Argues Call — https://ftw.usatoday.com/2023/05/alabama-baseball-coach-fired-betting-scandal