Saturday, August 18, 2007

Slipping into Irrelevancy

One of our Vegas research items we didn’t get to reporting-out on was whether or not the Sports Books offered betting lines on WNBA games. Can’t speak for other books but at least the South Point did not. And with the way things are going, no one may be offering lines for NBA games either next year.

On Wednesday, Tim Donaghy, the former NBA ref who has been accused of betting on NBA games admitted his guilt in a New York courtroom. In addition to betting on games, he advised professional gamblers on which teams to pick and provided information regarding referee game assignments, ref/player relationships and players’ health.

And just when things couldn’t get any worse, there was a report on 1050 ESPN Radio in New York on Thursday that Donaghy was about to give up to prosecutors the names of 20 colleagues that may have violated league rules. It was not disclosed what the nature of these violations were but the mind reels at the possibilities.

Now David Stern, the NBA commissioner, has been swearing up and down ever since this story broke that Donaghy is the only one, a rogue ref if you will and that the system the NBA has in place to police such illegal activity is in fine working order. This, of course, begs the question that if the system is operating as it should, why didn’t they pick up on what Donaghy was doing?

The NBA’s gambling scandal makes the NFL’s Mick Vick situation look like child’s play. The NFL and the Atlanta Falcons have essentially washed their hands of Vick and what he has been accused of doing, though reprehensible, does not strike at the very credibility and viability of professional football.

The Association and David Stern have a lot to answer for. For years, players, coaches and fans have grumbled, hinted and intimated towards the fact that certain refs had it in for certain players and/or coaches. Fans, in particular, have been openly suspicious that the league had a vested interest to make sure that certain teams advanced in the playoffs.

This was never more apparent than a few years back as the regular season was winding down, Commissioner Stern was asked in an interview what, from the league’s standpoint, would be the ideal Finals match-up. Without missing a beat and without a hint of irony, Stern responded with a big smile, “The Lakers vs. the Lakers.”

Of course, Stern and the league office would turn right around and dismiss charges of preferential treatment as essentially the rantings of conspiracy theorists.

Can it get worse? We shall see but no doubt these are dark, bleak and despondent times for a league struggling to maintain relevancy as the NFL (along with its complementary sidekick, college football) stands poised to swallow whole the entire American sports scene.

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