Sports Betting Changes Meaning of 'The Big Game'

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Gridiron gambling must have seemed like a sure bet at the time. The Boston College players knew the teams and they knew the plays. The risk was getting caught - and that's exactly what happened.

Thirteen members of the Division 1 team are suspended from play, starting with tomorrow's big game against Notre Dame, for gambling on college and professional sports. Two face charges of betting against their own team.

While the news has shocked alumni and administrators at the Roman Catholic college, sports betting is in fact a growing and disturbing problem on campuses across the country. Even before the revelations here, some colleges had already moved to curb the phenomenon - efforts that are likely to be stepped up now. "Gambling's a real disaster; it's an epidemic among college students," says Arnie Wexler, a compulsive-gambling counselor and the former head of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey. It was only a matter of time before a widespread scandal erupted on a college campus, experts say. The number of student athletes who gamble has gotten so large that the National Collegiate Athletic Association is giving the problem top priority. Two months ago, it designated a coordinator to deal solely with gambling and agent violations, and last January it expanded a NCAA bylaw outlawing sports betting to include betting on professional games. The NCAA has two concerns. First, student athletes who gamble on sports may begin betting on their own games and eventually fix the outcomes to win their bets, undermining the integrity of every college game. "It's like everything else in life - you start at A and end up at Z," says Bill Saum, NCAA coordinator of agent and gambling issues. Second, NCAA officials say, they are worried students will accumulate huge debts they will be unable to pay. A mirror on society Sports betting has always been available to college students, but over the past decade betting on campuses has experienced a boom that mirrors the growth of gambling in society at large. Gambling has increasingly become a part of how America entertains itself - from riverboat gambling to casinos and the proliferation of state lotteries. In fact, young people have become the biggest problem gamblers of any age group. A 1990 study by Illinois State University showed that 23 percent of college students gamble at least once a week. That study, the most recent available, reports that 5-1/2 percent of college students are problem gamblers, the highest rate of any age group. Today, experts say it's easy for students to place a bet on campus: Professional bookmakers extend generous credit to students before asking them to pay up, and the number of students making a business out of collecting their colleagues' wagers is on the rise. …

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