Coaches plot late strike against college wagering

Jul 3, 2001 12:20 AM

College coaches massed in Washington to reapply pressure on Congress to outlaw gambling on college games in Nevada sports books.

About 15 coaches were joined at a media conference outside the Capitol by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Reps. Linsey Graham, R-S.C., and Tim Roemer, D-Ind., leading sponsors of the bill that takes aim at Nevada’s biggest industry.

The bill has been stagnating in Congress since the Senate Commerce Committee, led by McCain, narrowly passed it May 3.

Rep. Tom Osborne, R-Neb., former Nebraska football coach, said it wasn’t fair for players to deal with the added pressure of point spreads hanging over games.

“It’s tough on the athletes,” Osborne said. “And of course, it’s tough on the integrity of the game.”

Proponents argue the bill ultimately could decrease gambling by college students because gambling in Nevada creates a “framework” for illegal betting to thrive.

“I’ve left the field when we won and been booed: I’ve left the field when we lost and been cheered,” South Carolina football coach Lou Holtz said. “The only difference was in one we beat the point spread.”

The coaches are lobbying members of Congress to close a “Las Vegas loophole” that allows legal betting on college games in one state: Nevada. Bill supporters say banning bets in the state will curb the influence of gambling on athletes, such as pressure to beat point spreads and pressure from bookies who contact players.

“It’s embarrassing for me to have (the coaches) come up here time and time again to tell Congress that this is a problem,” Graham said.

The lawmakers said the influence of gambling money in campaign contributions had blocked the bill.

“This is about money,” McCain said. “This is all about $10 million in campaign contributions from the gambling industry.”

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., dismissed that charge, saying gambling money amounted to a “spit in the ocean” in overall campaign contributions to Congress.

Berkley and Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., have introduced a bill in the House that would require universities to institute anti-gambling programs, as well as launch a study of illegal gambling and increase penalties for illegal gamblers.

Coaches in attendance at the Capitol included University of Colorado football coach Gary Barnett, University of Memphis basketball coach John Calipari and retired University of Michigan coach Bo Schembechler.