GAMBLING with the Future of College Sports

Article excerpt

NOTHING BEATS an October Saturday afternoon at the Los Angeles County Coliseum watching my beloved University of Southern California football team taking it to the likes of the University of Notre Dame or UCLA. Even though Trojan victories have been somewhat scarce of late, I still try mightily to arrange my schedule each fall to be in the Coliseum's sun-soaked stands for at least one game.

Tens of millions of other Americans share my passion for college football. We marvel at the talent, teamwork, determination, and strategy poured into those three- or four-hour battles, and we walk away, win or lose, entertained by the experience. Yet, this treasured pastime is imperiled. A toxic threat looms over the entire collegiate athletic landscape. That threat is gambling.

For two years, I served on the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. In June, 1999, my eight colleagues and I authored a final report replete with more than 70 recommendations to Congress and state and tribal governments. It was during the commission's proceedings that I awakened to the tremendous dangers posed by gambling on collegiate sports. In our final report, we concluded: "Sports wagering threatens the integrity of sports, it puts student-athletes in a vulnerable position, it can serve as a gateway behavior for adolescent gamblers, and it can devastate individuals and careers."

That is why I authored a recommendation, subsequently approved by the commission, to ban gambling on collegiate and amateur athletic events. That recommendation became the basis for Congressional legislation, spear-headed by Sens. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.) and Reps. Tim Roemer (D.-Ind.) and Lindsey Graham (R.S.C.).

This long-overdue legislation would close the "Nevada loophole" left open by he Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, passed by Congress in 1992. That bill made it illegal in 49 states to gamble on college sporting events, with the glaring exception of Nevada. As a result, Nevada casinos now reap close to $1,000,000,000 a year in wagers on college football and basketball games.

This bonanza for Nevada wagering establishments comes at a tremendous price to our colleges and universities--and to the athletes themselves. According to National Collegiate Athletic Association president Cedric Dempsey, "The millions of dollars wagered legally on college sports has resulted in more `point-shaving' and `game-fixing' scandals in the 1990s than the previous five decades combined." Those scandals have ensnared dozens of athletes from some of the nation's most prestigious academic institutions:

* At Northwestern University, 11 student-athletes were convicted in gambling scandals involving the school's athletic teams. Among them were the football team's star tailback, Dennis Lundy, who admitted to intentionally fumbling the ball at the goal line in a 1994 game against the University of Iowa so he could win a bet. Two Northwestern basketball players were convicted of trying to fix three games in exchange for bribes from gamblers.

* Thirteen members of the Boston College football team were suspended for gambling in 1996, including two who bet against the Eagles.

* The all-time leading passer at the University of Maryland, Scott Milanovich, was suspended for four games in 1995 for betting on college sports.

* Arizona State All-America point guard Stevin ("Hedake") Smith sacrificed a promising pro basketball career and ended up in prison after he and a teammate were found guilty of shaving points during the 1993-94 season.

Surveys indicate that gambling is indeed rampant among male college athletes. In 1999, researchers at the University of Michigan surveyed 460 NCAA Division I male football and basketball players. More than 45% admitted to betting on sports, despite NCAA regulations prohibiting such activity. Even more disconcerting, five percent admitted to succumbing to gambling pressures, either by providing inside information to gamblers, betting on a game they participated in, or accepting money for performing poorly. …