NCAA officials are too smart to believe they can eradicate gambling from campus. A Manhattan phone book worth of rules has been passed against cheating, and the $100 handshake lives on.
Point-shaving rocked college basketball at Kentucky and CCNY in the years after World War II, and yet every generation seems to relearn the same lessons anew. Take the NCAA National Study on Collegiate Sports Wagering and Associated Health Risks, the first section of which was released Wednesday. Of the 2,132 Division I football players surveyed, 1.1 percent of them said that they had taken money to play poorly. That's 23, a symbolic starting team of infamy, give or take a player.
Two dozen players may not seem like a lot. On the other hand, 1.1 percent of the 10,000 or so I-A players is over 100. Football may be a team sport, but the wrong move by one player can affect a game. Ask Northwestern, which had a scandal of its own a decade ago.
Bill Saum, the NCAA anti-gambling czar, said from his Indianapolis office on Thursday that the organization plans to use the study as a foundation from which to launch a multifront assault on gambling. Changes in public policy and legislation are goals, as well as continuing education of the players themselves.
More data to be mined from the survey of nearly 21,000 student-athletes from all divisions promises increased illumination of the connection between gambling and addictive behaviors. With such proof, Saum says the NCAA hopes to elicit greater interest in combating campus gambling from campus health centers and campus law enforcement.
As if coaches don't have enough to do, the basketball players surveyed indicated that they took heed of gambling policy whenever a coach got involved. Coaches control nearly every other aspect of a student-athlete's life. Why not his recreation? And recreation is in part the issue. Gambling may not end up in a nice place, but the survey revealed that 91 percent of the student-athletes who gamble start out looking to have fun.
That may be why American Football Coaches Association executive director Grant Teaff is a leader on the NCAA task force announced Wednesday to fight gambling in football. The other leaders include NCAA president Myles Brand and retiring Notre Dame president Father Edward Malloy.
"It seems simplistic," Saum said, referring to players listening to coaches. "On the other hand, it's really important. We can show them how important it is. I feel we've accomplished something in basketball. A little bit of what we're doing is working. I'm not saying we changed the world."
Changing the world would involve changing human nature, and that's not a windmill that anyone wants to tilt at. Saum and the NCAA hope to change attitudes. You can't fault them for that.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your question/comments to Ivan at email@example.com. Your e-mail could be answered in a future Maisel's Mailbag.