GORDON WHITE: Allowing Athletes In Casinos Not Gamble NCAA Should Take
Celebrations continue, and rightfully so, from Cape Hatteras to the Great Smoky Mountains. A National Championship is worth an extended revelry.
The North Carolina players did themselves proud with a dominance of the 71st National Collegiate Athletic Association Basketball Championship tournament not seen since the days of John Wooden's superb UCLA teams in the 1960s and 1970s.
The accolades showered down upon Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Deon Thompson, Ed Davis et al are well deserved. When totally healthy, this was by far the best team in the nation and proved it last Monday night in a game that, for all intents and purposes, was over in the first five minutes.
But before jumping on the Roy Williams band wagon to heap additional praise and superlatives on the Tar Heels' coach, I want a better explanation from him about just why he thinks it is "no big deal" to allow his players, coaches and himself to spend free time gambling. Few, if any other coaches in college basketball, would allow their players to gamble in the Detroit casinos that are so handy to anyone in Motown where the Final Four was held last week.
Does Roy Williams suffer from a severe case of nescience when it comes to gambling and basketball game fixing or is he somehow infected with an ostrich syndrome?
Ty Lawson, the Tar Heels' junior guard who was named Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, said he won $250 shooting craps in one of those Detroit casinos.
Williams, who said he also gambled in a Detroit casino last week and last December when the Tar Heels played Michigan State during the regular season, said, "I have zero problems with Ty doing it. I went and did it myself."
Williams added, "If we don't want these kids doing it, don't put the Final Four in a city where the casino is 500 yards from our front door."
According to that school of thought, Williams, who probably does not want his players drinking while preparing for a National Championship game, would not allow basketball tournaments in cities with bars. There are very few of those cities in the United States, if any.
Jim Calhoun, the Connecticut coach, and Tom Izzo, the Michigan State coach, specifically forbade their players to enter any Detroit or neighboring Windsor, Ontario, casino, during the Final Four last week.
NCAA President, Myles Brand, said, "I warn against that slippery slope. We prefer not to regulate that. But it is highly discouraged."
The NCAA has rules against betting on sports events but not against individuals gambling with such as dice, cards or slot machines.
Does Roy Williams not recall the greatest of them all, Michael Jordan, who obviously had a gambling problem that became quite a serious embarrassment to the NBA when he played professionally? Jordan is reported to have been a heavy poker player in his college days at Chapel Hill. Oh, but that was no big deal.
I wonder if Williams ever heard of Pete Rose or Art Schlichter, a couple of Ohio natives, who ended up in jail as a result of their sports gambling problems.
Schlichter was the Ohio State quarterback who regularly attended a Columbus race track to bet on the horses while his head coach, Earle Bruce, was also at that track betting on the nags. Remind you of Williams and Lawson gambling in a Detroit casino?
Under the Roy Williams' theory, Ohio State should move away from Columbus because the horse track was nearby to tempt athletes.
Maybe Williams should be reminded, also, of Salvatore Sollazzo, Jackie Goldsmith, Irving and Benjamin Schwartzberg, Nick and Tony Englises, Joe Benitende and Jack West. They were each sentenced to prison terms (8 to 16 years for Sollazzo) for their part in bribing college basketball players to fix games between 1947 and 1951.
Coach Williams might like to remember Sherman White of Long Island University, the Michael Jordan of his day, who was sentenced to one year in jail for dumping games while playing for the Blackbirds in 1949 and 1950. Maybe Williams never heard of Ed Warner, Ed Roman and Irwin Dambrot of City College; Gene Melchiorre of Bradley; Bill Waller of the University of Toledo, and many more who were arrested and charged in the 1951 college basketball fixing scandals.
District Attorney Frank Hogan of Manhattan arrested 32 players from seven colleges who fixed a total of 86 games between 1947 and 1950, according to reports. Most of these players appeared before and were sentenced by Judge Saul Streit of New York Supreme Court. He gave Sherman White the one-year sentence. White would have become the first NBA player to make $100,000 a year if he had not committed the crime.
Roy Williams would be well served to remember how Kentucky's great coach, Adolph Rupp, reacted when the fixing scandal first broke in January, 1951. Rupp claimed that his mighty Wildcats that won the NCAA championship in 1948 and 1949 could never be corrupted by fixers.
"They couldn't reach my boys with a 10-foot pole," said Rupp.
But nine months later on Oct. 20, 1951, Kentucky's Ralph Beard, Alex Groza and Dale Barnstable, were arrested for accepting a $500 bribe each to fix a game against Loyola of Chicago in the 1948 NIT at Madison Square Garden. These three athletes played on Kentucky's 1948 and 1949 NCAA championship teams.
Judge Streit gave each of them a suspended sentence, which was the penalty he handed down to the majority of the college athletes caught in the 1951 scandal. Judge Streit was far more severe on the men who bribed those players and were considered the "fixers". Most of these crooks went to prison.
I covered many stories involving the basketball scandals of the last 60 years and I got to know and like Adolph Rupp despite his gruff ways that scared off some folks. But I felt then and still feel that Rupp had his head in the sand on the gambling issue as did many coaches of the mid-20th century, particularly at the time of the 1951 scandal.
As a result of Kentucky's involvement in the fixing mess, the NCAA suspended Kentucky's famed basketball program for the entire 1952-53 season. Rupp was devastated -- for a year or so.
Two other coaches greatly affected by the 1951 scandal were Clare Bee of Long Island University and Nat Holman of City College. Both of these highly respected coaches who are in the Basketball Hall of Fame dropped off the front sports pages as their programs downsized and never regained national stature.
Roy Williams should think of those coaches when he says gambling is "no big deal."
Then came 1961 and Jack Molinas, Columbia's star basketball player in the early 1950s who was later suspended from the NBA for betting on games. He led a group of fixers who were arrested and served time as a result of the second large scandal in college basketball. This time players at Columbia, New York University, St. John's, Seton Hall, North Carolina State, Connecticut and some other institutions were implicated.
The mob was closely involved in the 1961 mess, also. Molinas, who served five years in New York's Attica State Penitentiary, was tied in with the likes of Capo Vincent Gigante and another Mafia chief, Tommie Eboli.
It did not stop with that scandal 48 years ago.
Thirteen Boston College football players were suspended in 1996 for betting on sports, which is a growing problem involving undergraduate students across the nation. Here is where the modern-day Internet is used extensively to enhance the ability to gamble on just about anything without leaving a dorm room.
There was the Tulane fixing scandal in the mid-1980s that caused the university to suspend the sport for four years.
Some Boston College players agreed with Henry Hill, a mobster, to fix games during the 1978-79 season. Hill was a member of the Lucchese crime family in New York.
Two Arizona State basketball players pleaded guilty to point shaving on four home games in 1997. Two Northwestern and five Maryland athletes were suspended for betting on sports in 1994 and 1995.
Rick Neuheisel, the University of Washington's head football coach, was fired for taking part in a basketball betting pool in 2003. But surely that was "no big deal."
Roy Williams should really go back and take a refresher course in Gambling 101. There seem to be some things he has forgotten about or never even bothered to learn.
As an example: Suppose a college player such as Lawson loses $250 instead of winning that much at craps in a Detroit casino.
The player then panics because he has no money left and looks around for help. That is when the vultures, ever present in such casinos and betting parlors, spot the 6 foot 9 inch kid who is obviously a basketball player in a city full of basketball players that week.
"Can I be of help?" asks the vulture-fixer. The player is hooked. No need to explain more. But then gambling is "no big deal," according to Roy Williams.
Anyone with authority in a major sports enterprise today who treats gambling of any sort by athletes as simply innocuous is, in my opinion, taking an irresponsible approach to a potentially dangerous situation.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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