Of particular interest was Donaghy’s allegation that to increase television ratings and ticket sales, there was a behind the scenes push to manipulate games for the interest of the league.
Fresh off an NFL season marred by upsets that were outright hard to swallow, week after week I found myself as a skeptic, making bold statements. “This has got to be rigged” seemed to be the standard declaration. “No way is that possible” was muttered several times, mixed among a slur of well-known expletives that undoubtedly expressed the disbelief in seeing upset after upset. Upsets that included an 0-13 team get its first win in the same weekend that an undefeated team got its first loss.
Now, it seems simple to dismiss this anger as typical and chalk it up to one made by any scorned gambler or seasoned conspiracy theorist; but with so much to gain for those willing to take the risk, is the notion of match fixing in pro sports really that far-fetched?
Simply put, match fixing has been seen before and will certainly be seen again. (Hopefully, it will be during a time when I have nothing invested in the lucrative world of gambling.) What befuddles this cynic, is the utopian-like bubble that North American fans, sports enthusiasts, and pundits seem to be living in. Much of the sports world is already familiar with match fixing scandals, and it comes to them as no shock when an illicit ring is exposed.
Recently, Europe was in uproar this past fall with the revelation that an Italian Soccer league team was integral in a match fixing scandal. As it turned out, the newly promoted Serie-A team Atalanta took center stage in a case where so far 17 people including the former captain of the squad have been arrested under suspicion that games were being thrown. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Even the world of cricket with its timeless folklore of sportsmanship has been gripped by scandal this past year, with match fixing cases leading to the imprisonment of pro cricketers Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir.
With all this going on around the globe, what then makes the NHL, MLB, NFL, and NBA immune to this type shameful blow to the integrity of professional sport? In a nutshell, not a damn thing. As a matter of fact, many readers will recall the soap opera tale of Tim Donaghy. The disgraced NBA referee who served jail time for his hand in a betting scandal that revolved around the manipulation of several matches, including playoff games in the 2007 season.
Now far be it for me to spend time digging in past scandals in an attempt to break the sacred bond between spectator and player, but the reason why Tim Donaghy’s case is so relevant is because despite David Sterns attempt to discredit the former referee something still smelt fishy with the whole situation. Of particular interest was Donaghy’s allegation that to increase television ratings and ticket sales, there was a behind the scenes push to manipulate games for the interest of the league. Stern luckily was able to shrug off these allegations and maintain the NBA’s squeaky clean image with little reprisal or long term damage to his legacy. He did however make concessions which resulted in changes to refereeing policies.
Unfortunately for the scorned gambler and seasoned conspiracy theorist, no further investigation took place. But at the very least, the controversy was enough to get this writer up and questioning the validity of our proverbial sports paradise
Written for CAVE by Jason Cross