Senior writer Tim Layden, who wrote a three-part series on
campus gambling (SI, April 3, 1995, et seq.) reflects on the
events at BC.
The best that could have come from the Boston College gambling
episode (page 52) would have been a public better enlightened
about the accessibility and danger of gambling to athletes.
Instead, what sprang is a stream of rhetoric that says, in
effect, it's naughty to bet on games if you're a player and it's
very, very naughty to bet against your own team. But as long as
nobody shaves points, as BC basketball players Rick Kuhn and
Ernie Cobb did 17 years ago, a bullet has been dodged.
Yet the line that separates betting from fixing isn't as
distinct as people believe. Once an athlete is involved in
gambling, he is at risk of losing money. He will probably lose
more than he can afford, and his bookmaker will look for means
to make his account good. What better way than to ask the
indebted athlete to fix a game?
It happens. Arnie Wexler, a recovering compulsive gambler who
has been counseling bettors for more than 28 years, conducts
workshops for compulsive gamblers. He's in phone contact with a
college athlete who is deep in debt to a bookmaker with whom he
has gambled on sporting events. The bookmaker recently asked the
player to consider throwing a game to clear his losses. It is
the third time in 10 years that Wexler has talked to a college
athlete in this situation. None of those players admitted
throwing a game, but compulsive gamblers are given to
dramatically understating their excesses. "When a guy tells me
what he's lost, I automatically assume it's three times that
much," says Wexler.
The NCAA has rightly amended its rules to forbid athletes from
any kind of gambling. But the gambling issue is over the NCAA's
head and far beyond its reach. It is fabulously easy to place
bets on college campuses, and unnecessary to use one's own name
to do so. Professors at Cincinnati found that 25.5% of 648
Division I football and basketball players who responded to a
survey said they gambled on sporting events. After meeting
dozens of college gamblers and bookies, this doesn't surprise me.
Colleges can no longer say they aren't aware of the problem.
They must educate athletes about the dangers of gambling, and
they must frighten athletes into understanding the consequences
of betting on anything. The risk of compromise is enormous:
Big-time college sports have precious little integrity left, and
a full-blown fixing mess could fracture what remains.