The NFL did a billion-dollar about-face on gambling, once the Supreme Court threw open the floodgates to legalized wagering in 2018. The man who previously ran the NFL remains unnerved about what it could mean to pro football.
“I still worry about some young guy . . . and someone says to him, ‘Take the money,'” former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue told Jarrett Bell of USA Today.
Tagliabue said that he played in a college basketball game that was fixed, when Georgetown beat NYU in 1961.
“I played in a college basketball game that was fixed,” Tagliabue told Bell. “We beat the hell out of NYU. It was the biggest victory in my three years of basketball at Georgetown. Turns out that guys at NYU were taking money to shave points.”
Tagliabue thinks there’s less of a risk of point shaving in football, unless gamblers get to one specific person.
“Football, if you get the quarterback in football, presumably you can affect the outcome of the game,” Tagliabue said. “But if it’s not the quarterback and you get one or two guys, it may not affect the outcome of the game, which is why people explain there’s [been] point-shaving in basketball but not football.”
He’s right. There hasn’t been. Which perhaps means it remains unlikely going forward. From the NYU example to Henry Hill (yes, the same Henry Hill) and Boston College to Tim Donagy, basketball has had multiple gambling scandals. Football hasn’t. The legalization of gambling doesn’t introduce the possibility. Potentially, it magnifies it.
The NFL definitely should be worried. In a world of widespread legalized gambling, the wrong scandal at the wrong time could spark federal regulation and/or potentially prosecution. When gambling is illegal, Congress won’t care about people who get burned by it. When it’s legal, everything changes. Hard-earned money is being wagered. The powers-that-be will insist on a higher degree of integrity.
Tagliabue’s instincts are right. Now, it’s up to his successor to ensure that the league applies the kind of imagination and creativity needed to anticipate gambling controversies and to prevent them from happening.