DETROIT -- So Ty Lawsonwon a little cash rolling dice in advance of the Final Four? It could have been worse for NCAA officials, who seem embarrassed and even a little surprised that when they brought four groups of 18- to 22-year-olds to a city without much nighttime entertainment other than a few downtown casinos, a few of-age players actually took advantage of their legal right to patronize one of those casinos.
At least Lawson didn't traipse across the Detroit River to Windsor, Ontario, where he could have legally shot craps, bought drinks for teammates as young as 19, bought an all-nude lap dance and ordered a prostitute. Wonder what NCAA president Myles Brand would have said about that little superfecta?
Thursday, Brand discussed the possibility of athletes gambling this week. "Well, I warn against that slippery slope. It's a fair question," Brand said in response to a general question that did not mention Lawson. "What a student does, play bingo in his church for example, while we discourage that, we prefer not to try and regulate that particular kind of activity. But it's highly discouraged."
Brand and company should be doubly glad none of the players crossed the border, because the Detroit casinos do not allow wagering on sports. Caesars Windsor has a sports book, but the casino has agreed to suspend wagering on Division I men's basketball until the end of the Final Four. Still, players could forfeit their eligibility by throwing down on an NBA game, or, if they're complete degenerates, an exhibition baseball game.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Friday that he told his players not to gamble, but North Carolina coach Roy Williams fired back at Lawson's critics with a fantastic point that wove together common sense and all-you-can-shovel crab legs. "It's strange," Williams said. "If we don't want those kids doing it, don't put the Final Four in a city where the casino is 500 yards from our front door. And they've got a great buffet in there. ... You know when we got here? Wednesday. I mean, I'm not gonna tell my guys they got to stay in the room and watch Bill Cosby reruns for four days. Come on."
Besides, Lawson won't be the only Tar Heel rolling the dice this weekend. His coach plans to hit the tables before Carolina faces Villanova in Saturday's national semifinal. Based on past experience, if Willams rolls a few snake eyes, the Tar Heels will beat the Wildcats. "When I came here this year to play Michigan State, we stayed at MGM," Williams said Friday. "And I went down and shot craps, we lost, and we won the game. I go to Reno, to play Nevada-Reno, and I stayed in a casino, and I went downstairs and shot craps and we lost, and my team won. So you've got to be half-an-idiot if you think I'm not going to go gamble and lose money before this game."
Half-an-idiot? Sounds like the geniuses who decided it would be a good idea to place the Final Four in Detroit. While Detroit is a fine town full of dedicated, octopus-chucking sports fans, it isn't equipped to host a Final Four. Neither, for that matter, are Atlanta, St. Petersburg, Fla., Phoenix or Dallas. To be a good Final Four host, a town needs a large indoor venue surrounded by hotels, restaurants and entertainment options, all within easy walking distance of one another. The best examples are Indianapolis, New Orleans and San Antonio, Texas.
But if the NCAA doesn't want players gambling or committing any other venial sins, it probably should consider permanently placing the Final Four in Salt Lake City. On second thought, those crazy BCS-busters in Utah are loosening their liquor laws, so maybe Salt Lake City is a bit too randy for consideration.
The NCAA chose this place, so its leaders shouldn't cast stones at those who cast dice. That includes players hoping to win and coaches hoping to lose a bundle.