It's about time for all of you who think a point spread is a newfangled kind of marmalade to put away your Start-o-Matics and face facts. For in today's merging, remerging, submerging and emerging sports world, gambling may well be the sole constant.
The 14,527 spectators in New York's Madison Square Garden learned this lesson last Thursday night when Earl "the Pearl" Monroe, who has been playing basketball since his embryonic stage, became "confused" and sank a seven-foot jump shot into the wrong basket just as the game ended. So what, you ask, as long as Monroe's beloved Knicks still won the game? Ah, ignorance is bliss.
Sure the Knicks won the game, 108-104, but that is not the issue. The spread is, and as set by the neighborhood bookie, it favored the Knicks by five and one-half points. In other words, if you chose to bet on the Knicks' opponents, the Portland Trailblazers, you would win your bet if the Blazers either won the game or lost by less than five and one-half points.
Manroe's shot, you see, reduced the Knicks' margin of victory from six points to four and swung the spread from those who bet on the hometown boys to those who wagered on the visitors.
The NBA conducted an appropriate investigation of the matter and one can only speculate on how it went:
NBA Investigator: "Earl, did you shoot to beat the spread?"
Earl: "No, sir, I really didn't. I was confused."
NBA Investigator: "O.K., Earl. We just wanted to check."
And with that, Monroe drove away in his brand new car, just paid for in cash on Friday afternoon.
Imagine the uproar, however, if gambling was legalized and so many more people had a stake in the outcome.
If the gambling phenomenon existed merely in professional sports, then many of the complaints presently heard would be silenced. But this, as any phone call to a bookie will show, is just not the case.
Collegiate sports, primarily football, receive at least as much attention from the wagerers as their professional counterparts, and maybe more. For whereas there are relatively few teams in the NFL and NBA, collegiate conferences abound, offering a virtual gold mine to obsessed bettors.
And Harvard is no exception, for in your House, down the hall, or even in your room is a person that someone out there has let the rent ride on, an athlete who has shouldered more responsibility than he would ever knowingly assume.
I do not mean to imply that any of Harvard's athletes have ever knowingly participated in sports gambling, lest the powers-that-be begin an investigation faster than you can say National Collegiate Athletic Association. Nevertheless, the problem still exists.
All the clamoring for legalized sports gambling which has been heard over the past few years does not really take into account the personal side of the issue. The pressures already placed upon athletes, be they professional or collegiate, simply to win are tremendous. Add in the spread and they are outrageous.
No sooner is an interception thrown, a lay-up missed, a touchdown pass dropped or a home run hit than the screams of a fix come pouring out from the spectators and arm-chair quarterbacks. And any bettor worth his weight can give you scores of "positive" examples of fixed games. (Call me, I've got some beauties.)
As far as professional athletes are concerned, I have no mercy. A man making $200,000 per season should be able to take the heat, be he a Len Dawson or an Alex Karras. But collegiate athletes are different.
Save the few exceptions who attend the big sport powerhouses merely for exposure, the average college athlete competes for State U. because he enjoy it and to deprecate his performance by worrying if his team beat the spread or not itself, but also from the attitude with which an athlete may compete.