Back in early March, the major pro sports leagues and the NCAA had scored the first touchdown in the battle to stop New Jersey’s bid to legalize and tax sports betting.
The court ruled to uphold 1992’s Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which bans sports betting in all but four states.
“The NCAA maintains that the spread of legalized sports wagering is a threat to the integrity of athletic competition and student-athlete well-being,” wrote Donald Remy in an email to the media after the decision, the NCAA’s head legal officer. “We hope the decision in this case is a step in the direction of preventing that from happening.”
It was a typical message throughout the proceedings: sports bettors are a dodgy breed who would trade integrity just to make a few bucks.
The nice thing about the NCAA is you never have to wait long for its preaching rhetoric to blow back in its face in a heap of hypocrisy.
In this case it only took a couple weeks. It was then during the Pac-12 basketball tournament that Ed Rush, head supervisor of basketball officials, offered $5,000 or a trip to Cancun to give Arizona coach Sean Miller a technical foul.
Miller was in fact teed up with less than five minutes to play in Zona’s next game against UCLA. The call turned the game around while Arizona spread and moneyline bettors watched their money disappear in a 66-64 Bruins upset as 4-point underdogs.
This wasn’t a sports betting syndicate out of Singapore that affected the outcome of this game with promises of cash and rewards before tip-off. It was the Pac-12, one of the six biggest leagues in the NCAA.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said afterward the league investigated the incident and brushed the comments off as being made “in jest”.
“As part of that banter and discussion (about calling more T’s on coaches) this discussion was had about ‘What do I gotta do to get you guys to enforce the rules? Do I have to give you guys rewards? Do I have to give you a trip? Do I have to give you money?"
That’s a softened version of the unnamed official’s take, who blew the whistle on this incident to CBSSports.com, and even what Rush admitted he said on Thursday after he resigned amid the controversy.
"Ed Rush doesn't joke," one official told ESPN.com. "To say it was a joke is absolutely not true. If he meant it in jest, then he had time to correct it the second day and he didn't. And the only coach he mentioned was Sean Miller."
Friday’s ESPN story said “officials confirmed that Rush made the ‘joke’ twice in a meeting during the Pac-12 tournament and then again that Friday after Arizona played UCLA.”
“In an effort just to lighten the mood,” Rush said Friday, “ I said to them, 'Hey, guys. What's it going to take? Do you think we could give you a trip to Cancun or maybe $5,000? Or who wants what? And now they're all laughing, which is basically what I wanted to do. So I said, 'I know you guys, you probably want $5,000, you want the money, you won't take the trip to Cancun.' So I'm going around, 'What would you take?' At that point, I said, 'By the way, you know my wife's not going to go for this. I'm going to have to pull this off the table.'”
I don’t know exactly what Rush said or how many times he said it. And I do believe he made the comments in jest and there are probably some disgruntled officials who wanted him out of there.
That doesn’t change the fact that his comments impacted the outcome of the game and both Arizona and bettors got hosed because the game’s integrity was compromised.
And when the Pac-12 had a chance to correct it, they didn’t. Despite the fact they love pointing fingers at everyone else when it comes to integrity. It’s a disturbing level of hypocrisy that we see far too often from the NCAA.
Sports bettors want betting legalized because we want betting to be above board, not the opposite. And eventually, it will happen.
Unfortunately, it’s the integrity of the game on the court that we’ll likely always have to worry about when we're walking up to the betting counter – and the NCAA is doing a fine job of keeping things that way on its own.