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College Basketball - It's All About the Action

By Danny Sternfield
Tuesday, March 30th, 2004
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Why is it that so many people turn right to the back of the sports section? Why is the pay phone so busy at 12:55 PM EST on Sundays in the fall? And why did Al Michaels say something to the effect of, "This is when much of America is inching toward the end of their couch" during the end of Super Bowl XXIX, which was, by the way, a blowout win for the 49ers?

Here's a hint: it's the same reason Las Vegas can build a new casino at the drop of a dime (that's $1,000 in gambling parlance).

If the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat drive sports, betting rides shotgun. In the world of players and parlays, there's no bigger time than the Big Dance. The NCAA tournament is fueled by gambling; it allows those who never gamble to indulge and those who gamble every night to now bet day and night.

If you think all we're talking about is office pools and filling out brackets, think again. College students lying to their parents to get money to pay a bookie. Young adults maxing out several credit cards because a walk-on freshman from 16th-seeded No Name State hit a meaningless three-pointer.

This is what happens when a gambling addiction becomes problematic. After all, gambling is only a problem when you lose, right?

But the NFL -- gambling's go-to sport -- at least accommodates bettors, if not indirectly acknowledges them, by graciously moving the start of the Sunday afternoon games back 15 minutes. That way I, uh ... I mean you, can wait until the end of the first set of games to decide what and on which team to wager.

The NCAA tries to fight the good fight with anti-gambling commercials. For example, Clark Kellogg warned radio listeners against sports betting during the Big 10 college basketball tournament and NCAA tournament. "If you know someone who seems a little too stressed or tense while watching basketball, it might be the symptom of a gambling problem," Kellogg tells fans.

So Clark's saying that the guy sitting alone at the sports bar smoking two packs of cigarettes before the first television timeout is not just a huge Florida A&M fan?

In an attempt to put the focus on both the student and the athlete, the NCAA recently came out with television spots that show athletes' accomplishments in the classroom. Unless an over/under is put out on what Sarah the softball player scores on her chemistry test, most of us just don't care.

The next time you hear someone say, "I love the tournament. It's my favorite time of the year," there's a decent chance that DegenerateGambler.com is their favorite website. Unless their team covered the spread in the championship game, I doubt they'll be in any mood for "One Shining Moment."

But before the Final Four, there's the NIT, which reminds me that I need to call some guy whose name I don't know and who refers to me only as a number.

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