Musburger and his history with talking sports betting on the air

Musburger and his history with talking sports betting on the air

January 03, 2017 3:01 AM
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The mainstream media is finally starting to catch up with Brent Musburger, albeit slowly, when it comes to the discussion of pointspreads on the air.

For years now, Musburger has found ways to work the topic into his telecasts on CBS, ABC, ESPN and the SEC Network. Sometimes in a subtle way, sometimes not so subtle.

He often does it with a catchphrase of “Friends in the Desert” to describe the sportsbooks in Las Vegas. Other broadcasters have been extremely reluctant to make similar references, but that’s changing, at least a little.

“It’s about time,” Musburger said. “I always thought it was a point of information and I thought the announcers, for the most part, were hypocritical because I had heard them talk about it all the time off camera and off air.

“Only Al Michaels and I will still use the over-under numbers, which I think is very interesting, that part of the game, do they expect a high-scoring one?”

A day after working the Las Vegas Bowl for ABC, Musburger spent the morning and afternoon watching NFL games at the South Point sportsbook.

He sat there with his son, Scott, who travels with him on a regular basis and works as his spotter in the broadcast booth.

“I’ve got some recreation bets today to have some fun,” Musburger said as people were lined up to get their bets in minutes before the early games kicked off. “Look at the crowd in here. People enjoy it. It’s great entertainment.

“I don’t think the National Football League would be what it is today without gambling. Period. There were some gamblers who were in on the founding of the league.”

Musburger was referring to owners such as Art Rooney Sr. and Charles Bidwill Sr., who owned racetracks, and Tim Mara, who was a bookmaker in New York when it was legal.

“I think (betting on games) helped its growth,” Musburger said of the NFL. “I think it has led to what it is today.”

He also believes NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should embrace the Raiders moving to Las Vegas.

“This town is ready,” Musburger said. “I also think it would be good for the NFL. The Raiders and Vegas are made for each other. It would be great for the fans in the league. They’ll come to Vegas to watch their teams. It’s a win, win.”

Musburger looked up at a nearby table and saw a woman going over the pointspreads and statistics.

“This country loves action,” he said. “You could argue that gambling is the biggest recreational activity in the United States. There’s a lottery on every street corner. People love taking a chance. What better way to take a chance and enjoy some company?”

Musburger’s stint at CBS included a popular segment on the NFL Today pregame show with Jimmy the Greek from 1976-88 in which they had to use a subtle approach to picking which teams would cover.

Musburger said that only once in his career has a network executive called him out for his on-air references to the pointspreads, although he admitted, “I am sure there are some people who wince, but they don’t say anything to me.”

The one time he did have to address it came after the 2006 Fiesta Bowl between Ohio State and Notre Dame.

“I mentioned the over-under number,” Musburger recalled. “The executive is no longer at ESPN. He called me privately into a room, played the clip, and it was blatant. I made no bones about what I was talking about.”

Musburger was told that he needed to “tone that down.”

“He was very nice about it,” Musburger said. “It wasn’t taking me to the woodshed. I, of course, being a loyal soldier said, ‘Yeah, OK, I get your point.’”

So what happened?

“The next year I was back to giving the numbers,” Musburger said with a chuckle. “It just comes out with me.”

Not surprisingly, Musburger has a strong opinion on whether sports betting should be made legal outside of Nevada.

“It absolutely should be legalized and policed,” he said. “I think we’re getting closer. And if they do, it should be run by the Vegas people because they’ve got the infrastructure in place. These guys keep an eye on what’s going on. It’s a business. They watch it. The casinos are more aggressive than anyone else (looking for potential scandals). They don’t want to be taken.”

There was one more issue that Musburger felt strongly about, which he brought up on his own, and that had to do with how fantasy sports has been viewed differently by some people, including professional leagues.

“They can pretend all they want that fantasy is not gambling,” he said adamantly, “but I’m here to tell you it is, period, amen, end of story.”