Will gambling seep into high school sports?

If a new dawn is breaking, a new gambling scandal likely hit the headlines.

It’s been a rough month for fans clinging to the sanctity of sports.

Whether it’s Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter, the Toronto Raptors’ Jontay Porter or the Temple men’s basketball team, each day seems to bring a new allegation of illegal betting or points shaving.

Up until now, high school sports has remained relatively immune. But for how long?

The deeper gambling seeps into the sports culture, the more vulnerable prep sports will become. The trend is disturbing.

The Illinois Gambling Board prohibits betting on school events other than at the college level. The bylaws also prohibit betting on sports events where the majority of the athletes are under the age of 18.

While the IHSA doesn’t explicitly prohibit gambling, athletes are not allowed to engage in any Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) activity associated with gambling.

Is that enough? Can anything else be done to maintain the purity of prep sports?

There are already clashes between the rules and the loopholes. While bets aren’t allowed on events where the majority of athletes are under 18, what about the professional and Olympic athletes under 18 who already compete at the highest level?

Those athletes are of high school age, but they’re still exposed to the potential pitfalls of gambling.

High school sports themselves have even become gambling targets. According to the National Federation of High Schools, for decades illegal offshore gambling websites have taken bets on high-profile prep basketball and football games, including the Texas state football playoffs.

If interested money is out there, betting sites will find a way to grab it.

IHSA athletics have been able to avoid gambling issues, although high schoolers are absolutely gambling. It’s become all too easy to set up online accounts, but at least they can’t go on the sites to bet on their classmates.

It’s only natural for teenagers to become involved in an activity glorified in so many radio and television ads. Heck, even when I was in high school back in the stone age, we had students who were bookies for NFL games.

Between the professional leagues opening sportsbooks at their stadiums and the local governments scrounging for tax money, sports betting has the seal of approval in powerful corners.

So why should high school sports be any different? We’re not talking about the innocent March Madness bracket or mayors wagering on big games between rival cities.

No, the biggest fear is what we’re seeing right now at the professional and college levels.

Officials, meanwhile, are trying to stem the tide of gambling’s influence. NCAA President Charlie Baker wants a ban in college sports on prop bets, where gamblers bet specifically on the performance of a single athlete.

But is the horse too far out of the barn?

Now that sports leagues have embraced gambling (and so has Illinois), we can only hope the ramifications don’t trickle into the high schools.

I have (some) faith they won’t. One reason is a lack of interest and another is a romantic vision of prep sports remaining as pure as possible.

We love high school sports because it’s not professional or college.

And we want to keep it that way.

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