- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Two men accused of betting on NBA games using information provided by referee Tim Donaghy recently pleaded not guilty, and a lawyer for one suggested that other referees also were involved.

Tim Donaghy. Remember him?

People can identify Matt Walsh, the gofer who handled videotapes for the Patriots and is the central figure in the scandal involving accusations that the club broke NFL rules by taping opponents’ practices.

They know Brian McNamee well as the anonymous trainer who became the central figure in the Mitchell Report on the use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.

But ask them the name of the referee who bet on NBA games and supplied information to gamblers, and they might shrug. Troy Donahue? Artie Donovan?

The biggest figure in what should have been the most scandalous of the sports scandals of the past year — a corrupt referee — has faded into obscurity. The sport that should have been crippled for years because of the scandal not only has recovered but seems to be flourishing.

David Stern, please come forward to accept the Nobel Prize for Waste Disposal. The NBA commissioner apparently has buried this scandal deep in some New Jersey landfill.

Congress held numerous hearings about steroids in baseball — so much so that HBO is considering turning them into a series based on the documentary “When It Was a Game,” only this one would be called “When It Was a Pharmacy.”

A U.S. senator is dragging the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell to the Hill to answer questions about Spygate, the Patriots’ taping scandal. Sen. Arlen Specter is not dropping the ball on this one, demanding meetings with more league officials to determine whether the outcomes of any games were affected by the taping.

“We have a right to have honest football games,” Specter said.

What the senator actually meant was “we have a right to have honest football games on Comcast, as soon as the NFL comes up with the money.”

You don’t need a magic bullet to figure out the motivational path of this attack: Comcast is battling the NFL over fees for the NFL Network. Comcast is based in Pennsylvania and is Specter’s second-largest political contributor, the first being Comcast’s Washington lobbying firm.

So why no C-SPAN drama about Donaghy and corrupt NBA referees? Nobody’s ox was being gored enough? Not attention-grabbing enough? No money in it?

Rep. Bobby Rush asked in July to meet with Stern about the scandal, which Rush said potentially could be “one of the most damaging scandals in the history of American sports.”

Then, nothing.

Whatever Stern said to Rush apparently squashed any momentum for a show on Capitol Hill, and the guardians of ground balls and goal lines moved on to other scandals. When we saw Rush talking to Stern last month, the subject was, of course, steroids.

Since then, it has been sunshine and lollypops for Stern and the NBA. The Lakers and Celtics are back on top and could face each other in the NBA Finals — a dream come true. Or perhaps it will be dream come true No. 2: Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James.

The NBA All-Star Game, a public relations nightmare last year in Las Vegas, was a triumph for the league this year in New Orleans. The Houston Rockets are on a storybook winning streak. And the stories about the Donaghy scandal are reduced to newspaper briefs — for now.

Donaghy, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and transmitting betting information, is scheduled to be sentenced on April 18 — one day before the playoffs start.

The sentencing will return attention to the betting scandal in the postseason, when the focus on the refereeing will be greater. NBA fans cried conspiracy in the playoffs before the Donaghy case existed, and it still is possible that a call on the court next month could result in a call to Capitol Hill for Stern to defend his explanation that the problem is just of one “rogue referee.”

“I’m just not sure that the concept of ‘rogue’ referee is appropriate,” Jack McMahon, the attorney for one of the men who pleaded guilty two weeks ago, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. That trial is scheduled to start 10 days after Donaghy appears in court — and during the playoffs.

Tim Donaghy still might become bigger than Matt Walsh, Brian McNamee and all the other bit players who have the integrity of professional sports in America by the throat.

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