What does sports betting mean for UNC Pembroke? 

By Sarah Nagem


The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is among the 13 schools within the UNC System that will get money from sports betting. 

Each school will receive $300,000 next fiscal year from taxes generated by sports betting, which became legal in North Carolina on Monday. In addition, 20% of remaining tax proceeds not earmarked for other uses will go to the 13 schools. 

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The Border Belt Independent spoke with Dick Christy, the athletics director for UNC Pembroke, about what the money could mean for the Division II school. The conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

UNC Pembroke could eventually get upwards of $1 million a year from tax proceeds generated by sports betting, according to some projections. What will the money be used for? 

Christy: Our budget is in the $5 million to $6 million range, so it’s a large chunk when you look at Division II athletics. 

I think the majority of it is going to go to inflationary costs – the ability to travel your teams, your ability to outfit and equip your teams, salary expansion and coach retention. All of those things are going to continue to churn and increase. 

In year three, when this is really expected to take off, I think there’s reason to be optimistic that we would have some resources to invest in expanding nutrition or expanding athletic training or trying to provide just a little bit of a higher level of some of those services. 

You told us that UNC Pembroke has 16 team sports and about 425 student-athletes. How have the needs of student-athletes changed over the years?  

Christy: I was a student-athlete eons ago, and the expectations of my parents and me in being a student-athlete are dramatically different than the expectations of parents and student-athletes now in terms of athletic training, nutrition, mental health, compliance software. The expansion of student services really consumes a lot of the expansion of costs at our level. 

We want to have as good of a strength and conditioning operation as possible because that’s no longer a luxury, it’s an expectation. So you want to make sure that and athletic training are as first class as possible. 

What are the biggest drivers of revenue in UNC Pembroke’s athletics department? 

Christy: No sport is going to be revenue positive in Division II. But football and basketball have the biggest impact when you think about the ability to sell corporate partnerships and tickets and broadcasting impact. 

What people don’t realize about Division II is the athletics department makes financial sense when you think globally for the institution. What we spend on a partial scholarship model is often less than that student in Pembroke actually brings to our region and our institution by paying room and board and being here on a Pell grant (based on financial need) and spending money at the grocery store. 

When the UNC Board of Governors commissioned an economic impact study for all the athletic departments, that was really smart as they engaged in these conversations with the state legislature because it was able to show: What is the impact of Spartan athletics in Greensboro? What is the impact of Seahawk athletics in Wilmington? What’s the impact of Braves athletics in Pembroke?  

Do you think legalized sports betting will add an extra layer of stress for student-athletes?  

Christy: We have a great counseling service on campus that we partner with. In general, I think the stressors on student-athletes from a time-management standpoint are at an all-time high, so we always try to be sensitive to that. 

But specifically related to sports betting, we want this to be completely non-existent from their day-to-day. If they’re following NCAA rules, if we’re doing a good job of educating them, this should not be part of their existence. 

UNC Pembroke students will pay an athletic fee of $819 in 2024-2025. Could that fee eventually be reduced as a result of additional money from sports betting? 

Christy: I think you’d have to see a dramatic spike in enrollment for something like that to happen. An athletic fee is only paid by face-to-face students. Since COVID, there’s been a pretty dramatic expansion in online programs. Distance education in the UNC System does not pay an athletic fee. 

If you look at the stopgap funding that the legislature and the Board of Governors arrived at, the $1 million investment in year one (of the 2023-2025 state budget for UNC Pembroke) is actually just about dead even with the amount of fee revenue we’ve lost since COVID and online program impacts. It basically helped us to keep the lights on. 

We could talk about dollar figures all day. But for you, as the athletics director, what will the legalization of sports betting mean for UNC Pembroke? 

Christy: It’s rare that you have a new tax stream and enterprise that doesn’t rob Peter to pay Paul. We’ve had a genuine need at the small college level to find a sustainable funding model. But to this point, our outreach to the Board of Governors or legislators would have had to compromise revenue somewhere else. 

We’re really fortunate. Since COVID, if we had not found a large new revenue stream, there were going to have to be dramatic changes to either the scope with which we offer or the services that we offer.