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A Grip on Sports: As the powers that be bury their heads in the sand, college football is ripe for a scandal of its own

24th September, 15:50

A GRIP ON SPORTS * There has been a spotlight aimed at corruption in basketball recruiting lately, and it is a good thing. But there is another possible area bubbling under the surface right now that could engulf college football and few are paying attention to it.

* Utah coach Kyle Whittingham spoke with the media yesterday. He was asked point blank about the status of the Utes' two most explosive offensive players: running back Zack Moss and quarterback Tyler Huntley, both injured in last Saturday's game against USC.

"We just hope everyone's there. Why would you ever tip your hand to the opponent? That would make no sense at all. And until college football has an injury-report rule or whatever, we just won't do it."

He's right. Why would anyone ever give their opponent a competitive advantage?

Such a competitive advantage, however, isn't limited to the two teams. There is a third group that knows that information is a competitive advantage as well: gamblers.

Don't scoff. Since the Supreme Court ruled states can control sports betting, more than a dozen have tapped into the newest source of taxation on a vice. What does that have to do with whether Zack Moss or Tyler Huntley will play this week? Their presence, or lack of same, has an influence on the betting line and the outcome.

The game opened with Utah as an eight-point favorite. Las Vegas feels the Utes, at home, are that much better than Washington State. But since the line was posted, it's dropped as many as three points in some places. Why? Without Moss or Huntley, people betting on the game feel the Utes are not eight points better.

But what if you knew Huntley and Moss were good to go? Wouldn't that information be worth something? Maybe a lot of something? It's perfectly legal in almost half of the country to bet on college football. Would someone, who is going to wager $50,000 on the game, be willing to pass along $5,000 to know such information? Sure they would. It's a good investment.

Don't laugh. College athletics have been roiled by betting scandals before. It's taken more insidious forms in the past, including point shaving, but thanks to the legalization of betting and college football coaches' paranoia, it's possible these days in ways that don't change the outcome - and would be harder to track.

Say a gambler, professional or not, is fishing for injury information. He or she wouldn't even have to approach a player or coach. Other support personnel know. Some of them are even students, living hand-to-mouth and just trying to get by. A few bucks sure helps. And what's the big deal anyway? The information doesn't change the outcome, it just gives one person a competitive advantage.

For years people in the NCAA were worried about corruption in grassroots basketball. It turned out it took the FBI to ferret out the worst of it and it was between college assistants (who make pretty good salaries for the most part) and shoe company employees. At least that was what has been proven.

What if the NCAA had, in prior years, been able to change one small rule and, in doing that, had been able to avoid all of the shoe-money scandal? Think it would have done it?

Probably not. Because the organization, with one rule change, could avoid a possible scandal right now. And it is not doing it.

If every school in America had to comply with a simple, NFL-style injury report, and there were strong penalties for not, the need for insider information would go away. Take away to proprietary nature of the information. Level the playing field - all of them, including the one at the local casino - and there is less chance for a betting scandal.

* I hope I'm wrong about the growing threat to college football due to gambling and secrecy. I'm not, but I hope I am. The past shows you can never lose betting on cheaters finding a way to game the system. Until later ...