There is a story in the NY Post today about the sentencing of a man in NY who plead guilty to a count of trying to fix a college basketball game between St. Johns and Wagner in 2018. The story in the paper goes into the details of his planning and into how the plot came unglued; that is not the takeaway for me.
The man in question is 25 years old. He intended to bet $50K on the game he thought he had fixed; he did not make the bet nor did the game turn out the way the “fix” was supposed to have it turn out. Trust me, the path from beginning to end in this story is a tortuous one indeed. Here is the thing that is important to me:
- The perpetrator here will likely spend six months in jail per his plea agreement in the case – – assuming the judge goes along with that agreement.
- The maximum penalty the perpetrator could face in the matter is 5 years in jail.
Assume for a moment that this guy had been doubly successful here and had fixed the game properly and won a series of bets worth $50K without being caught. Basically, what I am asking you to imagine are the actions of someone with the access, the money and the conniving nature to make such a scheme work. It has happened before; it could happen again; all I want you to do for a moment is to think about the outcome if this plot had been successful. Now ask yourself this question:
- Is a six-month jail sentence any sort of deterrent here?
Remember, none of this “fixing” actually happened; the plot did not materialize. But, if it had succeeded, would the threat of a 6-month jail sentence be sufficient to convince the guy who just made a quick $50K that he should not try to do this again? Five years “up the river” so to speak might make someone think twice; but six months?
About 30 years ago, Congress passed PASPA – the Pro and Amateur Sports Protection Act – which was subsequently declared unconstitutional. It sought to eliminate sports gambling because it was a threat to the integrity of the sports. In the ruling by the US Supreme Court that declared PASPA unconstitutional, the Court left open the possibility of the Congress legislating something else in that area that might meet Constitutional standards. Here is a thought for the 535 Congressthings who cannot seem to be able to find their way out of a toilet stall without a map:
- Maybe a mandatory minimum sentence – no plea agreements below the minimum allowed – where the duration is at least 5 years long would be a way to put a caution sign in the mind of a future ne’er-do-well plotting to fix a basketball or football game.
I was already primed to take the “sports betting avenue” as one of the items for today’s rant before coming across the NY Post story this morning. The false positive – and/or inconclusive/ambiguous – COVID-19 test results for Matthew Stafford in the NFL and for Juan Soto in MLB made me think that the current environment for sports in the US has opened up another vulnerability for a betting coup.
There have always been – and will always continue to be – vulnerabilities for athletes and officials and coaches/managers to take a bribe to pre-determine the outcome of a game for a gambler. In 2020, you can add to that list someone like “the guy who does the COVID-19 tests for star players the day before a game but several days after the insiders have gotten down on the game”.
Take the two player examples I mentioned above:
- The Washington Nationals can win games without Juan Soto, but they are more likely to win with him in the lineup than back in the team hotel “in quarantine”.
- If the Detroit Lions are playing the Chicago Bears on Sunday and the line has been Bears – 2.5 all week long, any bettors who took the Bears at that price would have a leg up on any of the bettors who wanted to back the Bears after the news of a positive test for Matthew Stafford’s positive test and subsequent inability to play in the game. Now if that “Matthew Stafford positive result” did not break until late on Saturday evening, bettors with “the inside story” would have had plenty of time to get down lots of small to medium sized bets at lots of sportsbooks in order to raise only minimal suspicion.
Please note: I am not saying this is going to happen. I am merely pointing out that the coronavirus has introduced a new vulnerability with regard to the “wagering integrity” of games in 2020. Football and basketball would seem to be more susceptible to these kinds of shenanigans than baseball, so I wonder how the “guardians of integrity” in those areas have prepared themselves to protect that link in the “chain of integrity”. For the record:
- I would be surprised if anyone in the NCAA football or basketball world has even considered this yet. The “integrity cops” for collegiate sports are always like the aggrieved husband whose wife is out having affairs all over town; like him, the NCAA “integrity cops” are always the last to know.
- The NBA has had its awareness jolted by the Tim Donaghy Saga. Presumably, they have monitoring methodologies to make a repeat of that nonsense “less than likely”. The NBA is protected by the magnitude of the salaries earned by its players. To “buy off” a couple of NBA starters to adjust a game score to a spread value would make the up-front costs very unlikely. So, what about the testing personnel …?
- The NFL has not had a long history of players caught throwing games. Perhaps that is because – like baseball – more than a couple of players would need to take part in the plot. However, the NFL has not covered itself in glory when it comes to “investigative matters”. They did not get the “Ray Rice tape” for example. So, have they an “integrity measure” in place for the COVID-19 testers? I will bet that they would say they do if asked in a public forum…
Finally, Dwight Perry posed an interesting question regarding a possible aftermath of the World Series in this year of COVID-19:
“If the Blue Jays win the World Series, will they be treated to a championship parade through the vacated streets of Buffalo?”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………