Friday, July 20, 2007

Can an NBA Ref Knock a Dog Killer and a Steroids Cheat Off the Front Page?

The dorky looking dude to your left is Tim Donaghy.

I mean, I think it's Tim Donaghy. Sports Illustrated says it is and I'm willing to take their word on it since I couldn't pick Tim Donaghy out of a line-up. And that last bit means he might want me on his jury if he goes on trial for gambling on and fixing NBA games.

According to the AP:

The FBI is investigating allegations that a veteran NBA referee bet on basketball games over the past two seasons, including ones in which he officiated. According to a law enforcement official, authorities are examining whether the referee, identified by CBS Sportsline and ESPN as Tim Donaghy, made calls to affect the point spread in games on which he or associates had wagered.

Of course he made calls to influence the point spread in those games. When you have something as subjective as NBA officiating, there's no way a referee can't affect the point spread.

In terms of sports, the fixing of games by a referee is a bigger story than a QB who kills dogs for fun and one of hundreds of players who take steroids to make their head swell and their balls disappear. I don't know if it's juicy enough to displace Vick and Bonds from the top of the sports reporting pile, though.

Betting on games in which you're involved is so 1980s, after all. (Right, Chuckie Hustle?) Dog fighting and steroids-using balloon heads who are about to break sacred records are so much sexier a topic for columnists and bloggers and Self-Proclaimed Worldwide Leaders.

What's there to talk about a game-fixing/point-spread altering scandal? OK, the inclusion of the mob makes it a bit more interesting, but is there anyone who's going to stand up for Donaghy? Is there anyone who thinks game-fixing is acceptable? Who will stand up for Donaghy's right to hand inside information over to the mob?

The sheer lurid nature of Vick's dog torture and the historic sacredness of the HR record help propel those stories night after night, but if Donaghy is guilty and if he has acted alone, there's likely only so much that can be said about this story. Vick and Bonds have their supporters, after all. Vick and Bonds involves issues of grey - there's debate over what punishment Vick should get now, just like there will be debate over the appropriateness of whatever punishment he gets if he's convicted at trial. Same with Bonds - what did he do, when did he do it, how many others (hitters and pitchers) are doing it, etc.? But gambling on games you're officiating is just wrong, and given Donaghy reportedly never worked a Finals ... I don't know how much long-term heat this story is going to generate.

Make no mistake, I'm not saying it shouldn't be the equal of the Vick and Bonds stories, just that if this story doesn't get bigger I'm not sure it will get the same page- and screen-time as the sexier scandals. Remember, even if Bonds breaks Aaron's record tonight he's still got a federal investigation of his own to confront.

Once again, though, the NHL is left out in the cold. The NFL has a dog-torturing controversy, MLB has Bonds and steroids, the NBA has game-fixing referees, and the NHL has ... sleak uniforms?

Heck, the MLS at least has everyone talking about the impact of Becks, and NASCAR has a whole mess of cheating crew chiefs.

At this point, Gary Bettman is going to have to contract Canada right now just to get a shout out in a sports page anywhere south of Lake Erie.

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