March Madness is coming up and I, for one, am excited. As an avid UConn Huskies fan, I suggested to my roommates that we set up a friendly March Madness pool. To my surprise, my roommates, three of whom play on the varsity soccer team, informed me that they would not be able to take part in the pool because it was against NCAA rules. In fact, the NCAA prohibits student-athletes from engaging in any organized gambling activities. Student-athletes are also forbidden from soliciting or accepting a bet on any intercollegiate sports team.
So why is this relevant now? When Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet was served with a criminal complaint this week, informing him of the authorities’ intent to charge him with a number of gambling related crimes, this issue was pushed to the forefront. These alleged crimes centered on his involvement with an illegal gambling ring with supposed mob ties. A number of NHL hockey players and the wife of the “Great One”, Wayne Gretzky, were also allegedly involved, although none were reported to have bet on hockey.
This incident has many fans asking some age-old questions: should coaches and athletes be allowed to gamble on sports? Three of the major sports, MLB, the NBA and the NHL, all have policies that prohibit players and coaches from betting on their own sports, but make no mention of other sports. The NFL bans its players and coaches from gambling on any sport. At what point do we stop and draw a line for the rights of the individual?
Obviously, sports in our country have a sensitive past when it comes to gambling. Some of our greatest heroes have turned out to be rotten (Pete Rose), some have let us down (“Shoeless” Joe Jackson), and many have revealed their own greed (in the cases of numerous point-shaving scandals).
Having been hurt in past relationships, the average fan may be more suspicious and defensive when it comes to gambling. Some of us are like jealous men two-timed by past girlfriends, constantly protecting ourselves from the same heartache by supporting strict gambling rules on our beloved athletes.
Now we wonder what might be next: is Alton paying off the other players on the “Gauntlet” or is he really that dominant? Could Ken Jennings have been receiving answers from Alex Trebek illegally during his historic “Jeopardy!” run? While I might be the only one wondering those things, a skeptical state of mind has definitely developed among some American fans.
We are wary of our athletes today. But does this justify the gambling rules currently in place? In my opinion, most fans think not. The fact of the matter is that fans don’t care as much as they used to about athletes gambling.
I know that if you go up to any football fan and ask if they would care about Colts quarterback Peyton Manning betting on woman’s ice dancing, the answer would be absolutely not. I know that if a Division-III football player wants to place a bet on the Rose Bowl, it doesn’t bother me in the least.
If gambling rules need to be in place to restrict athletes from placing bets on their own sports, in order to remove any temptation, I completely understand. Sports stars have hurt us in the past and we have a right to put these types of measures in place. But should that prevent me from making a friendly bet with my roommates on sports teams entirely unconnected to them? Keep in mind these are college students! Some of these rules just don’t serve any purpose and, quite frankly, don’t make an ounce of sense. Go ahead and tell the NCAA I said so.
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