- - Tuesday, March 13, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As we well know, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is often called “March Madness.”

That name may never ring more true than 2018.

This may be known as the last tournament of innocence — well, at least the pretend innocence college sports supporters cling to. It may be awfully hard to watch the games with blinders on if events unfold as expected.

First, this could be the last NCAA Tournament without fans filling up sports books across the country placing legal bets on these young men and women.

It could also be when the other shoes drop in the federal investigation into corruption in college basketball — possibly leading to criminal charges and arrests of some coaches and administrators in the tournament.

Oh, March could be mad, all right.

The American Gaming Association has put out its annual press release calling attention to the amount of illegal gambling that takes place around the NCAA Tournament. The association claims $10 billion will be bet — which is likely a number more or less pulled out of the sky. Nobody really knows how much will be wagered illegally, on various levels, on the tournament.

Of that amount, they say about three percent — $300 million — of that money will be bet legally.

That could change dramatically the next time America reaches for its wallet come tournament time.

In December, the Supreme Court heard arguments on New Jersey’s efforts to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA, a 1992 law that said any state that did not legalize sports betting by 1993 was prohibited from doing it. After several failures to pass sports betting laws, state legislators passed a law in 2014 that, while not legalizing sports betting directly, removed the prohibition against it at casinos and race tracks in the state.

The law, as every other effort to allow states to legalize sports betting, has been opposed by all the major sports leagues and the NCAA. But it looks like the odds may be in favor of knocking down this ridiculous federal ban. It appeared that the justices may rule in favor of New Jersey, which would open the door for at least 32 states waiting at the starting line to create some level of legalized sports betting.

Neighboring West Virginia has already passed the sports lottery wagering act in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s ruling. “Nothing can happen until the Supreme Court issues their decision, but we want to be ready when they do.” Governor Jim Justice said in a press release.

That decision could come April 2 — the day of the national championship game.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said in December if the Supreme Court rules in favor of legalized sports betting, the association will lobby states to exclude college sports from such wagering. Given the pathetic lack of power the NCAA has, I doubt they will scare any lawmakers into giving special protections for college sports.

Besides, I think the powers that run college sports may have more than enough on their plate to worry about how sports betting will corrupt the games – given the possibility that during the tournament, indictments could be handed down and arrests made in the FBI’s ongoing probe into fraud and corruption.

In September, four assistant college basketball coaches were indicted on fraud charges in an ongoing investigation into college basketball and illegal payoffs. That is likely just the beginning of what has been reported to be a criminal probe that goes deep into some blue blood college programs.

“This goes a lot deeper in college basketball than four corrupt assistant coaches,” one source told Yahoo Sports of the documents, which reportedly contain thousands of wiretaps and bank records from 330 days of investigating. “When this all comes out, Hall of Fame coaches should be scared, lottery picks won’t be eligible to play and almost half of the 16 teams the NCAA showed on its initial NCAA tournament show this weekend should worry about their appearance being vacated.”

When the indictments were announced in September, federal prosecutor Joon Kim warned that more charges were likely to come. “We have your playbook,” Kim said, referring to programs under probe. “The investigation is ongoing.”

This is a high profile case with front page headlines. What better time for a federal prosecutor to grab the most headlines with more arrests in an investigation into college basketball corruption than in the middle of the sport’s signature event – March Madness?

I’d bet on it.

• Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network


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