It went almost unnoticed last week when Kelly Hunter, a former student manager for the Central Florida basketball team, was convicted of trying to engineer a point-shaving scheme. A 12-member federal jury in Fort Lauderdale found that Hunter, now 27, had approached four Golden Knights in December 1990, offering $15,000 bribes to at least one of them to allow Stanford to win a game against Central Florida by more than the 15-point spread. None of the players went along with the proposition, and the Cardinal won 70-61.
Nearly as disconcerting as Hunter's ham-handed attempt to fix the game was the comment uttered by his lawyer, Michael Smith, following the verdict. "With all the serious crime out there, for the government to investigate this case and spend our taxpayers' money to litigate is nonsense," Smith said. We beg to differ. Point shaving is an insidious and abiding threat to college basketball and every university that fields a team. It's a major reason that next spring's Final Four at the Meadowlands will be the first in the New York metro area since the scandals of 1951. In seeing the case through, the feds did right by both sport and society.
Survival of the Weak
When NHL commissioner Gary Bettman introduced a draft lottery last summer, the move was widely hailed as a necessary safeguard against the tanking of meaningless late-season games by teams seeking a higher pick in the draft. Based loosely on the NBA model, the NHL's lottery system no longer automatically granted the first pick to the league's worst team, though the lottery would still be heavily weighted in that team's favor.
Well, as we find ourselves having just emerged from the NBA and NHL lottery season, three professors of management sciences at the University of Waterloo (Ont.) remind us that the "moral hazard" of losing intentionally still exists in any system strongly weighted in favor of the weakest. In a recent study, Michael Magazine, Yigal Gerchak and Helmut Mausser caution that the NHL lottery too closely resembles the NBA model, which has gradually created a greater and greater incentive to lose by enhancing the worst team's odds of winning the top pick and ensuring that it will choose no later than third. The current system, the professors argue, only undermines the original purpose of a lottery: to remove a team's temptation to do less than its best in order to acquire a potential star. "People were upset when the Orlando Magic, which was already a good team, got the first pick for a second year in a row in 1993," says Magazine. "So the NBA changed the system. But what happened with Orlando was a rare event. Lotteries should allow for the possibility of rare events. What they shouldn't allow for is the possibility that weaker teams will have little incentive to win games."
NCAA Against Prayer?
In its zeal to banish from the game all nonspontaneous celebrations, the NCAA's college football rules committee has issued draconian guidelines for player conduct that are scheduled to take effect next season. A player doffing his helmet on the field, for instance, will be subject to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. So will anyone who high-fives fans behind the end zone after a score. Lest there be any confusion, the committee will distribute to NCAA schools a video depicting examples of indiscreet celebrations from recent seasons.
One category of proscribed celebration may come as a surprise: the lingering, post-touchdown end-zone kneel. Because two citations for unsportsmanlike conduct result in automatic ejection, it's conceivable that a player who removes his helmet and then kneels in prayer could get the heave-ho, even if his genuflection is genuine. American Football Coaches Association executive director Grant Teaff, ex-coach at Baptist-affiliated Baylor, believes everyone has a right to pray. But, he says, "what that individual doesn't have a right to do is draw attention to himself. If you think every guy kneeling is praying in the end zone—I bet they're not."
But She Can Spell O.J.
One of the two finalists at the recent Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee got tripped up by a Heisman Trophy tailback. Thirteen-year-old Marjory Lavery had tackled seven words, including hoydenism (tomboyish behavior) and wapiti (a type of elk), when she was run over by the surname of Penn State's 1973 Heisman winner (better known to the event's judges as a form of stuffed pasta). Marjory's answer contained an errant a and one l too few: "C-A-P-P-A-L-E-T-T-I."