A young man sits in a college classroom.
Colby Becker sits in the College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019.

Senior Colby Becker has been playing sports since he could walk, and now he’s pursuing a career in the sports industry.

Colby Becker’s love for sports blossomed at a very early age.

He began playing pick-up games in the driveway of his home in Axtell, Neb., with his three older siblings almost as soon as he could walk.

Those games usually ended with someone bleeding. And as the youngest and the smallest, that person was usually Becker.

He played all kinds of sports growing up. Sport specialization is almost unheard of in small-town Nebraska: Even in high school, most kids played at least two sports. Becker mostly stuck to football, basketball and baseball.

But basketball was, and still is, his favorite.

He loves it even after he tore his ACL while playing an intramural game at the campus gym at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), where Becker, now 21, studies sports media and communication.

colby 300x262 - UNL student inspired by childhood love of sports
Colby Becker sits in the College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019.

He’s all healed up since that injury almost two years ago, and he still plays as much as he can.

“I got medically cleared in December of 2018, and I signed up to play intramurals again as soon as I could,” he said.

Not only is he an avid player, he’ll watch almost any game that’s on TV. His No. 1 team is the Philadelphia 76ers, but if there’s a game on, he’ll watch it—even if it’s a matchup between teams he doesn’t care about.

While watching games the last couple of years, he noticed that the games and sports shows were talking about sports betting. He learned the terminology and began paying more attention to what analysts were saying about betting chances.

So, when deciding on what topic to choose for his semester capstone project with Lincoln’s newest online sports news website, UNLimited Sports, it was a no-brainer for Becker to focus on sports betting.

UNLimited Sports

Along with a team of other student reporters, Becker is taking a new look at sports betting in Nebraska and the United States.

“We don’t want to debate whether it should be legal or not,” he said. “We want to examine how it affects people from a variety of perspectives.”

So far, Becker and his team have talked with a casino manager at Harrah’s in Council Bluffs, Iowa, as well as some local sports bettors.

Becker has run into a bit of a hiccup with this project: Sports betting isn’t legal in Nebraska. Finding local bettors who are willing to go on record has presented a unique challenge for him and his fellow reporters.

“We’re trying to balance talking to as many people as we can with not using too many anonymous sources,” he said.

He’s also been studying national trends related to sports betting. He found statistics that show NFL viewership has increased noticeably since sports betting was legalized in the United States in 2018.

“We want to know (bettor’s) habits,” he said. “Do they watch the games they bet on, do they avoid them completely, what’s their game day process?”

In addition, he’s interested in seeing if athletes and coaches are affected by sports betting and betting culture. The spread, or the odds for a team to win and how much they are predicted to win by, is easy to find online for a football or basketball game.

“I’d like to find out if coaches and athletes think about the spread when they’re playing, or if it’s a factor in how coaches coach,” he said. “I’d like to talk to professional coaches about this, but with the resources we have in Nebraska, we’re going to focus on NCAA programs.”

Becker’s decision to focus on sports betting was guided by his consumption of sports content, but he isn’t just involved with sports as a spectator.

Not a typical sports career

During his sophomore year, Becker interned at HuskerVision, the internal video production team for Nebraska’s athletics department. He spent every home football game in 2017 on the sidelines, capturing the action for the team.

“It was a really cool experience, even though the on-field product wasn’t great,” he said, referring to Nebraska’s 4-8 record that year. “But I learned a lot from them; they taught me everything I knew about cameras and filming.”

He worked at HuskerVision for two years before leaving to take a job as a support intern at Hudl, a sports software company based in Lincoln.

In support, he works directly with coaches to solve any problems they’re having with a variety of Hudl’s products.

“I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty angry phone calls, and the coaches tend to use some pretty colorful language when they’re upset,” he said laughing.

The worst calls for Becker are when coaches are having problems with Hudl Sideline, a product used for live replay during football games. If, for some reason, the product isn’t working correctly, most coaches don’t realize it until right before or during the game.

“It’s frustrating for them because the product isn’t working, and they’re worried about it instead of preparing for the game,” he said.

Becker sympathizes with the coaches, but you can tell by the strain in his voice when he talks about some of these calls that it takes a toll dealing with upset coaches on a regular basis.

But after months of experience, he’s learned how to fix almost any problem with the Sideline equipment, and he really enjoys what he does.

Becker will be graduating from UNL in December and plans to continue working at Hudl full-time.

“I love working there,” he said. “It’s a really great company. I really like being able to help coaches.”