It is easy enough for anybody to gamble on college campuses these days, but for Chris Cosenza, a junior wide receiver on the Boston College football team, laying down a bet was especially convenient. All he had to do was pass along his picks to the guy in the next bunk. Among Cosenza's roommates in his on-campus suite was Michael Sheerin, a student bookie who was more than happy to do business with a member of the Eagles' team.
Cosenza says he knew he was violating NCAA rules that prohibit athletes from gambling on college or professional sports events when he made a handful of bets with Sheerin this fall, but he never thought it was a big deal. He had put $25 on the New York Yankees to win the World Series and had placed a few $30 wagers on NFL games. He had played his hunches. What did he have to lose besides a few dollars? To Cosenza it was no worse than scratching a lottery ticket or filling out a keno card. He says that because he broke even, he never exchanged cash with Sheerin.
"Every now and then I'd say to him, 'Can you do this for me?' " says Cosenza. "There'd be a game on, I'd be bored, I'd just try to make it a little more exciting."
"I'm not a bookmaker, I am just an in-between," Sheerin, a member of the BC golf team, told SI on Sunday. "I placed some bets for a few guys. That's all I did."
Cosenza took comfort in knowing that he was not the only Eagles football player making bets. The telephone in his suite would ring constantly, and at times there would be a teammate on the line, looking for the same excitement. Sheerin would take the bets and type the information into his laptop computer. Cosenza would not even blink—gambling was commonplace for many of the Boston College players, as well as nonathletes in the student body. "For smart kids," said one of the law-enforcement officials who last week was called onto the Chestnut Hill, Mass., campus to look into gambling allegations, "they sure were dumb."
The seemingly small-time gambling action involving Sheerin and at least one other student bookie erupted into a full-blown scandal in the days before last Saturday's 48-21 home loss to Notre Dame as 13 Boston College players were suspended for betting on college and pro sports events. Middlesex County district attorney Thomas Reilly, a graduate of Boston College Law School, said that two of the players had bet against their own team in the Eagles' 45-17 loss to Syracuse on Oct. 26; news reports identified those two as sophomore running back Jamall Anderson and junior defensive end Marcus Bembry. Reilly said that one player admitted betting against BC; through an attorney, Anderson denied having done so.
According to Reilly, none of the players who gambled or the students who booked the bets are likely to be prosecuted by his office. Eventually, the NCAA will rule on the eligibility of the 13 suspended football players—the 11 others are Cosenza, junior cornerback Paul Gary, senior defensive lineman John Coleman, sophomore defensive tackle Dan Collins, junior tight end Scott Dragos (a starter), junior wide receiver Steve Everson, junior long snapper Kyle Geiselman, sophomore wide receiver Brandon King, senior linebacker Brian Maye (a starter), sophomore linebacker Jermaine Monk and sophomore tight end Rob Tardio—but in some cases BC wasn't waiting. Three days before the Noire Dame game, BC coach Dan Henning said that any player who bet against the Eagles would not be allowed back on the team. According to team members, last Friday the lockers of Anderson and Bembry were cleaned out along with those of three other players.
As of Monday, Reilly's investigation had uncovered no evidence of point shaving, but the BC scandal revealed a deep and troubling gambling involvement by team members and served as a warning to all college athletes: When they place a bet with a bookie, they are risking more than money or the possibility that bookies might get their hooks into them. More immediately, they are imperiling the reputation of their institution and their own athletic future.
After the Oct. 26 loss to Syracuse at Alumni Stadium, bone-chilling rumors began to circulate in the BC locker room: The betting that had become popular among the players had evolved into a disturbing form of treason for a few. The word was that some players were betting against the team. "Call me naive, but I was shocked," says senior running back Omari Walker, one of four Boston College football captains. "I can't comprehend what would make a player do that." Over the next few days Walker reported the rumors to Henning, who confronted his players in a team meeting, asking anyone who had gambled to stand up. No one did.
The Eagles were 11-point favorites heading into their Oct. 31 game against Pittsburgh, but the struggling Panthers upset BC 20-13. According to Cosenza, Henning exploded in the locker room after the game, demanding that any player involved in gambling come clean. No one did. Two days later Henning told the team captains—Walker, defensive end Stalin Colinet, guard Mark Nori and safety Daryl Porter—to root out the culprits. The subsequent players-only meeting lasted more than two hours and included some heated arguments and near fisticuffs. Before the meeting broke, Colinet asked his teammates to stand if they had placed any bets this season, and the response was startling. Between 25 and 30 players stood. When Colinet then asked who had bet against BC, no one admitted doing so. "There were a lot of tears, a lot of emotion, a lot of finger-pointing," says Walker. "Unfortunately, the guys who bet against us didn't come forward."