The Erosion Our Trust In Sports

I’ve been studiously avoiding writing about the NCAA for the last week.  I am tired of it.  I still have the same feelings about the NCAA as a failed organization.  I am still baffled by some of its decisions and its institutional arrogance.  I will probably write something when its review of the Miami investigation comes out later this week.

What I am tired of is the relentlessly bad way the things surrounding the NCAA make me feel about sports.  The problem is it is not just the NCAA but the use of performance enhancers by athletes, the ubiquity of match fixing in the soccer, the glass ceiling for non-white coaches in the NFL, and finally the weird dance the NFL is doing around injuries.

Sports are supposed to be a fun way to get away from all the crap of your daily life.  That is getting harder and harder as time goes on and information from “the inside” is more available to us.  The more we know about what is going on in places we as fans never had access to before is changing our relationship with the games we love.

The Europol match fixing report came out after the Super Bowl.  It and the reporters who have been covering this for the last few years like Declan Hill lay the ease at which matches can be fixed.  It is rather amazing how easily the fixers operate aided by the fact they are moving across jurisdictions and the sheer number of games on any given weekend at all levels.

This information made me cast a jaundiced look at the 34 minute blackout at the Super Bowl and look more closely at the lower Division I basketball scores scrolling at the bottom of ESPN Saturday night.

This is where we are sometimes as sports fans.  We see a score between two Sun Belt Conference teams and wonder, “Did someone shave points in that game?”  We could not pick any of the players in the game out of a lineup, but as a slightly more than casual fan, we know the possibility of point shaving exists.  A lower Division I starting basketball player who is “going pro in something other than sports” (thanks NCAA marketing) could possibly be convinced that there is no real threat to his career for taking a $1000 to shave a few points here are there.  It isn’t like this has never happened at a major school in the NCAA (This provides a nice primer on the most recent NCAA basketball scandals.)

What about the guy refereeing the game?  We have actually seen someone getting caught doing this, not in lower Division I, but in the NBA.  It is possible, to say the least.

The problem isn’t that these things are happening.  The problem is that serious sports fans have to entertain the notion that they might be happening when something abnormal goes down on the field of play.  If  you watched this year’s Super Bowl, admit it, for a moment, you thought the blackout could be some nefarious plot to change the outcome of the game.  You may not have Tweeted it, texted it, or said it out loud, but you thought it.

That is the problem.  All the things that are wrong with sport are starting to erode even our basic trust in the fundamental fairness of what is going on the field and the final score.

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