What An Opportunity

A Purist Opposes Collegiate Sports Gambling and Its Coverage in the Media.

In Sports on October 14, 2012 at 11:53 pm

“Ladies and gentlemen, I sincerely hope that our discussion will answer your questions on tonight’s debate topic, and cause you to rethink your perspective on the media, gambling, and collegiate athletics as a whole. Please know that my goal is not to tell you how to think, or to dictate your opinions on this subject; on the contrary, I will simply endeavor to build a case that compels you to form your own firmly held stance.”

“Let me begin by asserting something that I hope we can all agree on. In their own primal, unique way, sports are extremely beautiful. I see an allure in athletic competition that transcends even the performing arts, and the reason is simple; the unscripted nature of sports is enormously compelling. While even the most beautiful symphony is composed in advance of its performance, and the most exquisite ballet is already choreographed in detail, and the greatest musical has been scripted beforehand, the athletic contest stands out in its self-governance. Here is a medium where the players themselves determine the game’s script as it plays out, and no outcome is guaranteed, however predetermined it may seem at a glance. Once an athletic contest begins, all expectations of what was supposed to happen fade away, and the game becomes its own singular entity. Do not underestimate the importance of this self-determination; it lies at the very core of sports, and it is an ethic that must be preserved. It is on this basis that I will denounce the ethicality of the media presenting betting lines on collegiate sports.”

“If you will allow for this personification, the free will possessed by an athletic contest should be unassailably defended by fans, coaches, players, and media professionals alike. It is a quality that, if changed, fundamentally alters the nature of an athletic contest and turns the competitive struggle between players into a farce. Call me a hopeless purist, but on these grounds, I say that gambling on collegiate athletic events can be deemed fundamentally unethical. By introducing the conditional possibility of winning money based on a certain outcome, wagering on the contest has very real potential to alter the independence of the game’s result, which is the central ethic of sport. Consider the New York Times mission statement: to ‘enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news, information and entertainment.’[1] Many other media outlets put forth similar missions to the Times, and I contend that promulgating gambling lines on collegiate athletic events does not fall in line with this purpose. They are failing to fulfill their self-defined mission.”

“Lest I be accused of overreaction, let us look at history to examine the effect gambling has had on athletic contests. Some the darkest days in sports history occurred because gamblers ‘reached’ athletes, who agreed to fix game outcomes in return for cash. Other major controversies have resulted from players or coaches betting on games, even those involving their own team! Talk about a conflict of interests! And ladies and gentlemen, these are not isolated or small-time incidents we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the World Series[2] being fixed. Outcomes of NCAA Division 1 basketball games[3] – the big show – have been predetermined. Pete Rose, baseball’s all-time hits leader, was banned from baseball for life and lost out on the Hall of Fame for betting on his team’s own games as a manager![4] In each of these cases, gambling on sports led to the complete devaluation of what takes place on the playing surface. If sports media would stop publishing the lines, it would represent a major step towards diminishing gambling on sports as a national pastime. Do you think the athletes are not aware of the weight these bets carry? Don’t be naïve. I fail to understand how gambling is illegal in nearly every part of the United States, yet I cannot escape the daily gambling lines in my local newspaper.”

“To emphasize this further, consider the effect of gambling on collegiate athletics in particular. The pure, untainted amateurism of its competitors is a central tenet of the NCAA.[5] As amateur sports, collegiate athletics are supposed to uphold the purity of the game and the wholesomeness of competition for its own sake, unadulterated by greed or self-interest. Student-athletes are intended to be perceived as their fellow students’ peers and equals, with the completion of an education as their first priority. The holistic nature of a college, its traditions, and the collaborative sharing of an athletic experience by students and alumni are all vital parts of the college football and basketball experience. Amateurism is a huge part of these qualities, which, as sports media so frequently reminds us, compose what we love so much about collegiate athletics. The love for school transcends winning; consider my alma mater, Notre Dame, and its consecutive sellout streak. The Irish have been through some lean years recently, including a school-worst 9-loss season in 2007; yet every single home game since 1973 has been sold out. [6] This is because to a collegiate fan base, tradition, education, and solidarity represent a great deal of the meaning behind college football, beyond wins and losses. The professional ranks simply do not have the same kind of idealization attached to them, because greed and self-interest run so rampant. If the NCAA places such an emphasis on amateurism, and comes down so hard on any threats to that standing, then it makes the involvement of gambling on these events all the more grievous. The media needs to stop perpetuating the double standard that it currently manipulates to its advantage, perking the interest of the doe-eyed fan by speaking of tradition, education, and solidarity, while also presenting betting fodder for consumption and even discussing college football and basketball games in gambling terms. The two perspectives cannot be reconciled.”

“I hope that I have presented a compelling case for you tonight. My love for collegiate sports moves me to defend their purity and honor, and I believe that the media’s shameless play of both sides of the coin is indefensible. I also believe that the danger of tainted competition can be greatly mitigated by a change in our fan culture. The perpetuation of collegiate sports gambling by the media as the status quo, however indirectly, should be halted to ensure the beauty of sports as we know them, and I am confident that discontinuing the unethical practice of publishing collegiate football and basketball lines would be a significant step in the right direction. Thank you.”

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