- The Washington Times - Friday, May 14, 2004

Myles Brand, the NCAA president, has stepped out from his hermetically sealed office with the following bulletin: Gambling poses a genuine risk to college sports.

Brand might as well have said the intramural sport of binge drinking comes with its own series of risks.

Time out. Where has the NCAA leader been the last couple of decades? Did he just step off a space shuttle that has been orbiting the earth since Bob Knight was winning national championships at Indiana?

America is awash in gambling-related activities, starting with the NCAA tournament and the ubiquitous office pool each March.

Brand must not get out much to convenience stores.

No, they probably are not up to his high-class standards, which is just as well.

Hardly anyone goes to a convenience store these days to purchase a cup of coffee or a newspaper.

Instead, people descend en masse on a convenience store to buy lottery tickets and all the silly-looking $1 scratch games.

There are always four or five of these people in line, each one twitching uncomfortably, dripping in sweat, with anxiety all about them.

It takes the cashier about a half-hour to punch in all the numbers and do all the paperwork, usually in the company of several rescue workers, there just in case one of the gamblers has a massive heart attack or the one sucker holding a cup of coffee goes berserk.

Brand undoubtedly has overlooked this cultural development in America, perhaps because he was too busy commissioning a gambling survey that was necessary only for the brain dead.

Of course, there is gambling among college athletes, probably a much higher incidence than the survey revealed.

This was one of these let-your-conscience-be-your-guide surveys.

Question: Have you ever accepted money in exchange for playing poorly?

Uh. Yeah. Sure have. Quite a few times, in fact.

Anonymous or not, college athletes are not dumb when it concerns covering their backsides.

They know what is at stake with the gambling issue — preserving the illusion of integrity in big-time college football and basketball, their meal ticket to the riches of the professional leagues.

The NCAA system teaches the moneymaking serfs the wrong lessons.

Everyone has a hand in this fabulously rich pie, except the athletes doing all the heavy lifting.

You think they are incapable of putting one and one together and coming up with the pocket change of a free education, which all too many have no interest in securing?

You think a lot of these young men don’t know the deal — that coaches, universities and the NCAA are getting wealthy off their sweat, while they receive a pat on the rump?

It is fairly easy to understand how an athlete, who is supposed to be living on allowance money from his family, might be tempted to dip his hand in the muddy waters of gambling. That is not to justify the action, only to show how it happens.

If Chris Webber ever felt compelled to talk honestly about his college days at Michigan and his financial arrangement with a booster, he just might frame his actions in that manner.

He wanted his piece of the action in the heady days of the Fab Five. He was making gobs of money for everyone else. Why couldn’t he have his small slice? Call the booster’s money a loan of sorts that was made in the context of what Webber stood to earn as an NBA player.

The NCAA system, like it or not, breeds this kind of cynicism.

In a nation that spends half its time in a lottery line, it is hardly surprising to learn that 35 percent of the male athletes in college have tried their luck on sports wagering or engaged in activities that undermine the integrity of the games.

The NCAA is accustomed to winking at all the wagering done in its midst, if only because gambling contributes to the fuel that stokes the passion.

Yet Brand now has implemented a 26-member task force to address the concerns.

That is too funny, so like the NCAA. A task force.

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