I just came across this article, as I skimmed thru the sports pages of the hometown papers today. A football player at the University of Toledo has been arrested and charged with bribery.
I won't say much about the "alleged" charges. Not my concern. But it brought something to mind. One of my favorites books is First Down and a Billion: The funny business of Pro Football, by the late Gene Klein. Mr. Klein talked about many things, but focused on the years when he owned the San Diego Chargers. (If you're a football fan, this ranges from the AFL days up through the "Air Coryell" years, until he sold the team in 1984).
Mr. Klein talked about a lot of controversial things that happened during his time in the League, including the big strike in the early '80s (sorry, don't have the exact year handy), which played a role in his decision to sell the Team. During the strike, for instance, he encouraged the owners to hold out for mandatory drug testing in the agreement. Didn't work, even though he claims most of the players had no problem with it- which is ironic if you follow the current NFL crime-blotter.
At any rate, Mr. Klein also favored another controversial measure. Legalization of gambling. Now let me stress that, as I recall, he was speaking of gambling on professional football, not NCAA, which is where these allegations I started with occurred. Allegedly.
There were several points that Klein made to support this idea: First off, if you look at any major newspaper in the US during football season (and most other sports seasons, of course) you will find the "injury report". What purpose does it serve? Why, to let people know who is or isn't playing. And this info is mostly important to whom- The casual fan? No. The gambler.
Further, if we as a society are so against gambling on professional sports, then why do the same newspapers (and web sites) print the "lines" on games? And here we are talking about both college and pro sports. I'm a reasonable sports fan, but I don't care if the Raiders are 2 point underdogs to the Broncos, or 3 points. Hell, I don't even know what it means.
And let's not get started on the brackets for the NCAA Basketball Tournament. I know people that are doing 10 different "pools" every year. And technically, most states ban such gambling. But it's too widespread to enforce.
Finally, the anti-gamblers mention the likelihood of point-shaving: the kind of thing that allegedly went on at Toledo. Well, it would seem to me that making it illegal didn't work so well there, did it? Mr. Klein makes a persuasive argument for it, on this basis. It's almost impossible to tell whether an on-field blunder really was intentional or not. A player doesn't have to make a horribly bad play- one that makes people wonder "What the heck was he thinking", in order to affect the outcome of the game. All it takes is a slight misplay- a missed block by an offensive lineman during a late drive, a botched snap on a punt- and the outcome of the game is changed. Or a horrible pass by a quarterback that is intercepted and returned for a score.
Come on football fans: tell me that during Superbowl XXX, you didn't wonder how O'Donnell managed to throw an interception when none of his players was even near the ball. Or how about Norwood missing a field goal in the final minute of XXV?
Let's be clear: I'm not suggesting that these two players deliberately "threw" the game, or that they did something to affect the point spread. I'm just saying that if they did, nobody would be able to prove it.
As Klein put it, whatever players would be doing to affect the outcome of games, they're already doing.
So maybe it's time to open up the debate on gambling. Don't criminalise something we all know is being done openly. And don't put people in a position where they're going to cheat in order to affect the gambling. And hell, let's see how much tax revenue we can get out of it.
A thought just occurred to me. Some might find this post contradictory, given the scorn I heap on that jackass Pete Rose for gambling. But note that he was in a position to affect the outcome of the games he was betting on. If he wants to place a bet on the Cincinnati Reds this season, then I have no problem with it (assuming it's legal where he is). However, for a player, coach, trainer, scorekeeper, referee, etc. to do so ought to be a major offense under league guidelines, and probably a criminal offense as well. Any of those people can affect the outcome, so they shouldn't be allowed even a whiff of gambling. For the guy on the street, who cares?