UA hopes to avoid 'disease' of athletes gambling
The lure of easy money has always been a fear in college athletics. Since the NCAA prohibits any type of wage system for a school's athletes, these athletes are often strapped for cash and therefore easy pickings for bookies and agents.
"Gambling is fearful and it scares me to death to think that we could wake up and potentially have something like what happened with ASU or, more importantly, Northwestern," UA athletic director Jim Livengood said in an interview earlier in the year. "We have to make sure we treat it like a disease and watch for the signs."
This summer has marked the pinnacle of gambling conspiracies. First, four former Northwestern basketball players were indicted on charges of fixing the outcomes of three basketball games against Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State, in the 1994-95 season. The Wildcats lost each game by at least 14 points and failed to cover the point spread against the Badgers and Nittany Lions. Then a former Northwestern football player was accused in a separate indictment of running a bookmaking operation on the Northwestern campus.
In addition, two former Arizona State basketball players pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit sports bribery. Finally, there is an ongoing investigation into possible point-shaving by two basketball players at Fresno State during the 1996-97 season.
It has become serious enough to cause NCAA executive director Cedric Dempsey to say that gambling has become more of a concern than alcohol and drugs at colleges.
"I think gambling has a bigger addiction problem on campuses as any other form of addiction in society," said Dempsey, the former University of Arizona athletic director. "We know that probably every institution in this country has student bookies that are tied directly or indirectly to organized crime families."
But sports betting is not the extent of the university's gambling problems. In fact, casino gambling often plays a part in many of the point-shaving scandals. In the Arizona State University case, former players Stevin "Hedake" Smith and Isaac Burton were hooked in through alleged gambling debts. According to reports, both players took payoffs for shaving points on three or four Arizona State home games during the 1993-94 season. Smith, who is second on the Sun Devils' career scoring list, reportedly had amassed a $10,000 gambling debt and was told that it could be erased if he agreed to fix some games.
"That's the real danger in college gambling. When a collegiate athlete starts losing money at the casinos, he opens the door (to) these types of things," Livengood said. "What ends up happening is someone comes along and says he can solve all your problems if you can maybe keep an eye out and let him know if anyone isn't feeling well or sprains an ankle. And that's when you start getting some serious problems."
And the problems for universities may continue as betting becomes easier and more profitable. The FBI estimates that as much as $2.5 billion is wagered illegally on the Division I men's basketball tournament alone. Another concern for university officials is the hundreds of Internet sites offering the opportunity to place bets from one's home.
The only weapon colleges have to combat this spreading epidemic might be education. The NCAA recently developed an 8-10 minute video on the dangers of gambling and many universities have started an active campaign against collegiate gambling.
"We are currently in the process of educating all 18 teams on this issue, and the NCAA video has been a part of this," Livengood said. "We are instructing our coaches and staff on what goes on with gambling and what signs to look for with regards to our kids."
The Associated Press contributed to this story