Calling Off the Press
Some $50 million was bet legally on the NCAA tournament during its three-week duration, but that figure only hints at the sums that were wagered clandestinely through illegal bookmakers, to say nothing of ubiquitous office pools. And with surveys suggesting that more than 5% of college students are ensnared in sports betting to a pathological degree (the second of SI's three-part series on the subject begins on page 68), there are signs of a new urgency among the guardians of college sports to take action.
Last summer members of the NCAA men's basketball committee floated the idea of denying Final Four press credentials to anyone affiliated with a newspaper that publishes point spreads. The ban never got past the talking stage, in part because press row at the Kingdome would have been sparsely occupied last week if such a ban had been enacted. Of the U.S.'s 50 largest dailies, only The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal do not publish betting lines on pro and college sports.
Nonetheless, panelists representing several points of view gathered in Seattle last week to discuss the issue. The most sensible note of the panel was struck by The Miami Herald executive sports editor Paul Anger, who said, "When we say a team is favored and by how much, that's of interest to the garden-variety sports fan, not only or primarily to the bettor." In fact, who's favored and by how much are innocent points of information not all that different from the seeds that the NCAA tournament committee assigns each team every spring. Further, if newspapers were to stop publishing betting lines, the information would be readily available from on-line and telephone services. That's why the committee's original instinct to browbeat newspapers into no longer publishing point spreads was misguided and why the NCAA did the right thing to set up a forum that turned out to be a salutary consciousness-raising session.
A Long Way to Go, Baby
Al Bundy could not have stated it more eloquently. "It's a given that women love to shop," a male reporter said to a group of UConn players during last Friday's press conference at the women's Final Four in Minneapolis (page 38). "Have you been to the Mall of America yet?"
The annual migration of the Pitino wannabes reached Seattle last week, where a gaggle of young coaches conducted an odd mating ritual with their more established brethren in the lobby of the Sheraton, site of the National Association of Basketball Coaches convention. Participating in a hallowed Final Four tradition, dozens of upwardly mobile coaches milled around the lobby desperately hoping they would just happen to run into Jim Boeheim or Billy Tubbs. But while the frenzied foyer at the Sheraton proved a great place to purchase a hoops ticket for the price of a Manhattan town house or to become a Scientologist, it was no place to find a coaching position. "It's a bunch of piranhas gobbling up goldfish," said Providence coach Pete Gillen. "After walking through this lobby, you'd better count your fingers at the elevator."
Actually, even the elevator wasn't safe. One of the classic scams of the upwardly striving is to loiter near an elevator until several big-time coaches climb aboard and then make their sales pitch to a captive audience. Other young candidates choose to gain acceptance by having themselves paged. Failing that, a young coach can always start a rumor about himself. Says Stanford coach Mike Montgomery: "Somebody starts a rumor that Bill's going to Eastern U for $50,000 a year, and once it works its way around the lobby, it comes back a half hour later that Bill's going to Eastern State for $8 million a year plus two Rolls-Royces."
Well-established coaches are particularly loath to admit that they are lobby lizards. Among those coaches, past and present, who were voted All-Lobby in an informal poll of their peers last week are George Raveling, Jerry Tarkanian, Clem Haskins, John Thompson and Bill Frieder. Not every coach in the lobby is networking, however. Said one coach last Friday, "Gosh, I hope I haven't hired anyone tonight, because I'm as drunk as a loon."
What every coach agreed upon was that the Sheraton lobby was a lousy place to secure a job. "Anytime I'd get a resume, I'd take it right back up to my room and file it straight in the trash," said Raveling, while fending off a scalper hawking two ducats for $1,600. "Everybody here is looking for a date to the prom, but this is an awful place to find employment—or anything else, for that matter."