College sports are a multi-million dollar industry for: the universities; coaches; television, radio and online networks; clothing manufacturers, video game producers and casinos. Essentially, everyone but the athletes. With all that money changing hands and none going to those responsible for the product can result in bad things. Those bad things are most often associated with under-the-table exchanges of money and gifts from boosters to athletes, but every few years something uglier emerges.
Hawaii is the latest in the programs to have allegations of point shaving leveled against it, The Honolulu Star Advertiser reporting that Honolulu police are investigating Warrior football on an anonymous tip. Anytime a point shaving scandal rears its head — San Diego, Arizona State, Toledo, Tulane — it exposes a seamier side to big-time college sports.
The NCAA proudly declares the values it stands for: academics over athletics. Amateurism. Playing for passion over paychecks. “We’re going pro in everything but sports.” Sharing the room with these core beliefs is a 5-ton elephant, smoking a cigar and swirling a tumbler of bourbon, amused. He represents the casinos.
Step into a Las Vegas sports book and there’s no difference between the professionals and amateurs. The consumer can place the same wager on a three-game college football parlay as its NFL counterpart. A winning ticket pays the bettor dividends. But while the professionals leave the field with a likewise pay-off, the college athlete leaves for class.
Indeed, football or basketball pays for an education. But a harsh lesson these players are getting outside of the classroom is that their hard work is paying others’ bills, including gamblers and the casinos.
Few would acknowledge it, but gambling is a necessary evil of the NCAA’s monetary success. March Madness has become the billion dollar Goliath that it is because of the vast sums of money bet those two weeks. The same is true for football Saturdays. There is indeed a sizable portion of viewers whose interests stem from gambling. Lose those eyeballs on the TV, lose advertisers. Lose advertisers, lose the monstrous contracts. Lose the contracts, and sports’ relevance dwindles. Other sports cease to exist altogether given football pays for most all of a university’s athletic department.
Pushing for legislation against collegiate gambling won’t happen for these reasons. However, point shaving scandals will persist unless something is done. Stipends — real, legitimate stipends for the members of big money football and basketball programs won’t completely eliminate the problem, but would go a long way to curb some of the temptation. It shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing proposition.