Future UNC-CH trustee’s ties to college sports gambling concern some board members

Kate Murphy
·4 min read

An executive of sports-betting company DraftKings Inc. is set to become a new trustee at UNC-Chapel Hill, which concerns some UNC System Board of Governors members.

Malcolm Turner is the head of strategy and corporate development for DraftKings, one of the world’s leading online fantasy sports companies that also allows fans to bet on NCAA college sports.

“I question whether that is the most appropriate relationship to have with the UNC Board of Trustees or any university with a sports program,” Art Pope said at the governance committee meeting Wednesday about the university trustee appointments.

“The fact of the matter is that DraftKings is promoting sports betting on college sports, and I just do not think that’s appropriate,” Pope said, noting that he has no problems with the company itself.

Pope said Turner has an excellent resume, but Pope takes issue with Turner’s current profession in this case.

Board of Governors members Steve Long also expressed concern, particularly because this is a new issue with North Carolina recently being allowed to legalize professional and amateur sports gambling through a 2018 Supreme Court case. Sports betting is legal in North Carolina only at tribal casinos, and state lawmakers have filed a bill that would authorize sports gambling on professional, college, electronic and amateur sports.

Long said his hesitancy has nothing to do with the “outstanding” candidate. Long said he doesn’t think an executive from a sports betting operation should be on the Board of Trustees, simply because of the apparent conflict of interest, he said.

“The reality is that these Boards of Trustees do get involved with college athletics,” Long said, citing approval of coaches contracts and the UNC-CH academic and athletic scandal.

He and Pope suggested that the committee hold the vote until the next meeting for further discussion to get input from other board members and UNC-CH trustees.

But after about 15 minutes of discussion, the committee approved the slate of candidates, including Turner. The board can discuss his appointment at the full board meeting Thursday.

Several board members, including Pearl Burris-Floyd, Mark Holton and Philip Byers, strongly supported Turner’s appointment and touted his academic and professional background.

Turner graduated from UNC-CH and earned joint JD and MBA degrees from Harvard University. Turner was a Rhodes Scholar finalist, Morehead-Cain Scholar, and recipient of the Ernest L. Mackie Chancellor’s Award for character, scholarship and leadership at UNC-CH.

Before DraftKings, Turner was vice chancellor and athletics director at Vanderbilt University, president of the NBA G League, managing director at the Wasserman Media Group and senior vice president at OnSport, a North Carolina–based sports and entertainment consulting firm.

Vanderbilt Athletic Director Malcom Turner answers a question during a news conference Monday, April 8, 2019, in Nashville, TN announcing the hiring of Jerry Stackhouse as the school’s new basketball coach.
Vanderbilt Athletic Director Malcom Turner answers a question during a news conference Monday, April 8, 2019, in Nashville, TN announcing the hiring of Jerry Stackhouse as the school’s new basketball coach.

Potential conflict of interest

Board members submit Statements of Economic Interest with the State Ethics Commission. Pope noted that it found there’s no actual conflict of interest, but a potential conflict of interest.

Board Chair Randy Ramsey said he received those letters from the State Ethics Commission on each member of the BOG and Board of Trustees. He said it’s very seldom that he does not see the “potential conflict,” with only two out of at least 100 this year not having that distinction.

Ramsey recognized the concerns, but said university trustees are segregated from athletics decisions, which are made by the chancellor. He said he interviewed Turner and further expressed his support.

“I could not be more impressed by the gentleman and his integrity, and I think he will be a fine member,” Ramsey said.

Board member David Powers, a lobbyist for DraftKings, acknowledged Turner works for one of his clients, but said he does not know him personally and did not nominate him for this position.

Powers is the chair of the governance committee, which approves the trustee appointments. He left the meeting for the discussion and vote of the UNC-Chapel Hill and East Carolina University trustee appointments.

“With an abundance of caution for any perceived conflict of interest,” Powers recused himself and said he will do the same for the full board vote Thursday.

University trustees and athletics

Pope acknowledged that there is separation between trustees and athletics program and that members can recuse themselves. But he said right now college sports is facing great changes. He cited ongoing litigation about the rights of college players to control their own likeness images and questions about compensation restrictions.

Pope said there are issues that the trustees may be dealing with affecting college sports. He also mentioned the UNC-CH academic and athletic scandal that involved the Board of Trustees through legal issues and costs of consultants and the investigation.

“Unfortunately, Chapel Hill has a history with this,” Pope said.

Board member Mark Holton said he doesn’t think Turner’s job in an arguably controversial industry should overshadow his experience and qualifications.

Holton said people in other states are betting on UNC games today and that everything he reads suggests that trend will continue to grow. He sees Turner’s job at DraftKings as a potential benefit to the board as he has “front line view of what’s changing in the world.”

Board members briefly discussed each of the trustee appointments at several UNC System universities, recognizing their qualifications. The full board will vote on the list of appointments for each school at its meeting Thursday.