Archive for Sunday, August 17, 2003

NCAA official seeks end to gambling

Organization’s director of gambling activities tries to beat odds in preventing betting in college sports

August 17, 2003


— Bill Saum, the NCAA's director of gambling activities, knows he can't catch everyone.

That doesn't mean he won't try to beat the odds in preventing betting on college sports.

"We can never stop it because it's such a societal problem, but we can limit it by educating coaches and administrators about the pitfalls," Saum said. "We can also become a little more cutting edge in educating people."

Two high-profile cases this year have added to the NCAA's worries. Former Florida State quarterback Adrian McPherson pleaded no contest last month to gambling and theft charges after being accused of betting on Seminole football games.

Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel was fired after participating in a high-stakes NCAA basketball tournament pool and then lying about it.

Saum said he believed that state lotteries, Internet wagering and the growing number of casinos had made gambling more socially acceptable.

He sees that attitude trickling down to college students and athletes. Some studies, Saum said, revealed that 25 percent of football and basketball players wagered on games -- including 4 percent on the game in which their team was involved. Many use student bookies.

"We know already that we have a problem and probably a significant one," Saum said.

To confront the issue, Saum's game plan is to educate and reiterate the NCAA's policy, which prohibits all forms of gambling: no betting on one's games, no betting other games, no pools, no exceptions.

It also has produced a booklet titled "Don't Bet on It," and has routinely sent posters, public service announcements and videos to schools to reinforce the message.

It has held seminars and encouraged schools to use the NCAA's gambling position in media guides and programs.

The NCAA also hopes to delve into the underworld of sports betting this fall by surveying 30,000 college athletes about their gambling practices. Saum said the 45-question survey would be confidential. Instead of using the answers to catch infractions, the NCAA will use responses to build a stronger case against gambling.

And if a school wants to hold its own seminar, all it has to do is ask. The NCAA can recommend speakers, such as Michael Franzese, a former organized crime figure.

Franzese's credibility has sometimes been questioned, but the NBA, major league baseball and the NCAA all have paid him to produce videos or speak to athletes about a problem he saw firsthand.

"Who knows how much is going on? We only know what's come to light," Franzese said. "In my day, college athletes were definitely a mark for pro gamblers with organized crime. I don't think it's any better today."

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