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Sports Gambling Then and Now; Utah's Old Men; NovaKnicks; Quotes of Note

As we've written in this blog many times, since sports betting was legalized by the Supreme Court in 2018, the industry that was once limited to Las Vegas has spread like wildfire to 38 states and counting.

In 2023, Americans wagered an astouding $119.8 billion on sports, and the bookmakers' gross revenue (the total amount wagered less gamblers' winnings) was a healthy $10.9B.

All the major sports leagues have climbed into bed with the bookmakers, endlessly promoting their gambling "partners" and encouraging fans to place snap bets on every play, pitch, possession, quarter, inning, and individual stat. 

The leagues are all complicit in fostering gambling addiction by running ads for DraftKings, FanDuel and their ilk in virtually every commercial break during game telecasts.

This disturbing trend is a far cry from the way things were when more principled men ruled the games.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue in 1991 warned “legalized sports gambling sends a regrettable message to our young people” that states and other beneficiaries “might as well legalize, sponsor and promote any activity” to get a “cut.” 

He continued: "if we have the state sanctioning gambling, then I think we run a very serious risk that the athlete, whether he’s young or old, will say it doesn’t really matter. If I can do it at the 7-11, if I can do it at the pharmacy, if I can do it at the grocery store, why not take the $50 [as an inducement from gamblers] that’s offered in the summer camp?” 

That's exactly what is happening. The leagues are getting their "cut" in the form of huge sponsorships and advertising dollars. And player inducements are being offered to players at every level.

Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent was even more blunt than Tagliabue, arguing that in a world with legalized sports betting, “athletes can become particular targets” of “underworld figures.” Some athletes, Vincent added, “may be supplied drugs in exchange for information or selective effort on the playing field.”

Or, as we reported last week, some may receive death threats from gamblers who blame them for their losses.

It's a sickening spiral that is only going to get worse.

Utes Old Men: This fall, 10 former Pac-12 football teams change conferences. USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington move to the Big Ten. Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah move to the Big 12. And Stanford and Cal go to the other side of the country to become members of the Atlanta Coast Conference (ACC). 

A lot of people think Utah will win the Big 12 football championship. If they do, it will be largely because of two players who are in their seventh year of college football.

Quarterback Cam Rising, who's led Utah to two Pac-12 championships, missed last season while recovering from a severe knee injury suffered in the 2023 Rose Bowl. 

Rising began his career at Texas in 2018, transferred to Utah and sat out the '19 season, played briefly in 2020 as a backup, and then starred on the '21 and '22 Utah championship teams, throwing for 5,500 yards and 46 touchdowns. Because of the new NCAA rules allowing unlimited transfers without requiring players to sit out a year, Rising might even be able to return in 2025 and use his "penalty" year.

The other "old man" is All-conference tight end Brant Kuithe, a rare seventh-year player who's spent his entire career at the same school. After playing one game as a freshman in 2018, thereby preserving that year of eligibility, Kuithe earned All-Pac-12 honors in '19, 20, and 21, before tearing his ACL four games into the '22 season.

Like Rising, he sat out the entire '23 campaign to rehab, but is back to shoot for a different conference title in '24.

NovaKnicks: The New York Knicks sent a boatload of first-round draft picks and Bojan Bogdonavich to the Nets to obtain 20-point scorer Mikal Bridges. The Knicks believe the 27-year old wing will provide the missing piece to propel them into title contention next year.

More importantly, in my mind, is the fact that Bridges becomes the fourth former Villanova national championship star on the Knicks.

He joins Nova teammates Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo, all of whom played with him on Villanova's 2016 NCAA Championship team. Three of the four--Brunson, DiVincenzo and Bridges--also played on Nova's 2018 national championship team. That year Brunson was National Player of the Year and DiVincenzo was the Final Four MVP.

The Knicks will have four players who know how to win big games at the highest level. They also have incredible team chemistry.

Watch out, Boston!

Cronin on NIL numbers: UCLA men's basketball coach Mick Cronin was asked about how the Bruins' war chest stacks up against other top programs. "It's tough to say, because the way things are now, you don't know," Cronin said. "Say I beat you for a recruit, you're going to tell everybody, 'Oh, he gave him $1 million.' It used to be, 'Oh, they cheated.' Now it's 'Well, they gave him $1M. They gave him $1.5M'.  Well I can tell you nobody on our team got $1M. But you just don't know because it's not pro sports, the books aren't open, the contracts aren't public. So nobody knows."

Kiffin on Tranfer Rules: Mississippi football coach Lane Kiffin, while admitting he benefits from the transfer portal, says "It's a horrible system. With everything that has a benefit, there's a cost. It's been a lot of great stuff for the players getting paid, which is long overdue, but I don't know i it's in the best interest of 17-to-21-year-olds to always know, 'I can leave at any point. Mentally, I can check out into the next window at any point, no matter how many times I've gone. I don't have to stay. I don't have to practice through adversity if I don't like what the coach said to me or where I am on the depth chart.'"


Note: The Inside Track will be on vacation next week in Hawaii. We will return on Monday, July 15.


Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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