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March 15, 2002
by Bill Hogan



March Madness. NCAA Basketball.

Lets mix up the words: March Basketball – what fans across the country wait all winter to experience. Three weeks of exciting hoopla, unbelievable upsets and amazing buzzer-beaters.


Now let’s put the remaining two words together: NCAA Madness. Once again, the NCAA is using a high profile event to announce to the world that they are an organization beyond reproach. This time the crusade has targeted legal gambling on college sports.

The NCAA governing body is backing federal legislation to abolish any sort of wagering on college sports. How virtuous.

More to the point, how hypocritical. They’re afraid that ‘bookies’ will influence young players to ‘shave points’ off the final score thereby manipulating the betting line.

The biggest point-shaving conspiracy in the history of the NCAA happened over fifty years ago. This theory is old hat. Nevada is the primary location for making a legal bet on a college sporting event and fifty years ago Las Vegas was little more than a cactus, a rattle snake and a rock.

I recently read an article questioning the morality of college athletics. "Never before", it said, "have college sports been so popular. Never before have they been so prosperous. Never before have they had so much opportunity for good – or for evil".

The passage is referring to the influence that gambling can have on college athletics. The article by Bill Furlong was published in Sport magazine – in the March 1964 issue!

The NCAA is still addressing this ‘problem’ in 2002? Thirty-eight years without a resolution? It seems the whole anti-gambling stand by the NCAA is nothing more than posturing.

In the 1920’s the federal government outlawed alcohol. Prohibition became a constitutional amendment. Bootleggers and speakeasies thrived while the public continued to drink.

Heck, even Hawkeye and Trapper John were able to set up a still in the middle of war-torn Korea.

In the same manner, anybody with a telephone, a notebook and two collectors named Rocco and Vinny can make book without the government or the NCAA’s knowledge or approval. My nana could lay down a bet at the local bingo hall if she had the notion (or a hot tip).

Prohibition was repealed because the government couldn’t stop people from drinking. They figured they might as well profit from it by taxing the booze that was going to be distributed anyway.

Well, the NCAA can’t stop people from betting on basketball games, especially at tournament time. And the fact is, the sport is much more lucrative because of the gambling aspect.

CBS paid $6 billion for the rights to broadcast the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships. Who do you think is going to continue to watch the Duke-Winthrop game when the score is 95-60 with three minutes left? With a 35-point spread, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the millions of people still tuned in have a stake in the outcome.

CBS knows this. So does the NCAA.

The NCAA would like to see the office bracket pool abolished as well. I suppose IBM, Microsoft and every other major corporation would too. Passing along picks and game results can eat up a lot of time on the internal email system.

Many big companies have security measures in place for such an occasion. A database of keywords to filter email that may be tournament oriented. Words like basketball, three-pointer and Duke detected in the Subject line of an email will send up a red flag.

Like prohibition, there is a way around the watchful eye of the email filter. Persistent office bracket pool participants can and have come up with creative ways to convey their March Madness messages.

For instance:

Subject: "The Eagle Has Landed"
Meaning: Boston College has beaten Texas.

Subject: "The Tide Has Turned"
Meaning: Alabama holds off Florida Atlantic with a late scoring run.

Subject: "Lame Duck!!"
Meaning: Holy Cow, number 15 Montana just beat number 2 Oregon!

The more creative filter-beater might use:

Subject: "I’m working on a nice Spa Tan"
Meaning: Michigan State just whooped up on N.C. State


Subject: "Who’s yer Daddy?"
Meaning: Did Indiana win?

If you can make gin in your bathtub, there’s no way the NCAA is going to prevent people from betting on the tournament action.

But then, I have a feeling they really don’t want to.



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