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April 06, 1998
The Northwestern Scandal Campus Recruits
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April 06, 1998


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The Northwestern Scandal
Campus Recruits

College Sports is stuck on a dated image of the gambler as a shady street character in a trench coat who approaches athletes from a darkened alley. It should get unstuck—and fast. In the latest point-shaving scandal, the one that broke last week on the tree-lined campus of Northwestern, a person who allegedly took bets on pro and college sports from former Wildcats basketball player Kenneth Dion Lee was once a member of the school's football team. And the guy who allegedly induced Lee to shave points was a former placekicker for Notre Dame. Thus the Northwestern gambling scandal brings to mind others at Boston College (SI, Nov. 18, 1996) and Arizona State (SCORECARD, Dec. 1, 1997).

Lee and a teammate, Dewey Williams, both of whom last played for Northwestern during the 1994-95 season, were charged with conspiracy to commit sports bribery. Accused of the same offense was Kevin Pendergast, 27, Notre Dame's leading football scorer in 1993, who allegedly talked Lee into shaving the points, and Brian Irving, 27, who allegedly made bets for Pendergast at Nevada casinos. Named in a separate indictment was Brian Ballarini, the former Wildcats football player who was charged with bookmaking and extortion. Authorities say that three of the Wildcats' games in 1995 are in question: a 70-56 home loss to Wisconsin on Feb. 15, an 89-59 home loss to Penn State on Feb. 22 and an 81-64 defeat at Michigan on March 1. Northwestern failed to cover the spread in the first two but did cover against the Wolverines, losing by 17 when Michigan was favored by 24½.

The Northwestern scandal was a body shot to college sports, whose showcase event, the NCAA basketball tournament, ended on Monday night. In individual sessions held last Friday with each of the Final Four teams, NCAA representatives warned about gamblers and gave each player the cell-phone and beeper numbers of an FBI agent to call if someone approached them looking to alter the outcome of a game. As praiseworthy as the NCAA's efforts were, the problem of on-campus gambling can be addressed only by individual universities, which are incubators for gambling and point shaving. Student-athletes are sometimes unsuccessful gamblers (as Lee apparently was) who lapse swiftly into debt. They are easily approached by their bookie peers and desperate enough—and sometimes poor enough—to succumb to a point-shaving plan to recoup their losses.

Yet there seems to be scant interest paid by campus authorities to rooting out gamblers and bookies. Bill Jahoda of Washington, D.C., a former big-time bookmaker who now makes speaking appearances for Americans Against Gambling, has tried to arrange engagements on campuses but says he's been largely unsuccessful. "The hardest sell is the athletic department," says Jahoda. Arnie Wexler, who has been doing compulsive-gambling workshops for 29 years and has tirelessly solicited campus work, hasn't had a college nibble in more than a year. (One of the schools that did invite Wexler was Northwestern; alas, his speech to Wildcats athletes, in the fall of 1995, was too late.)

Campus authorities have all sorts of hot-button issues to deal with: drinking, drugs, date rape. It would behoove them to make on-campus gambling another.

Hangin' Close In K.C.

At the women's Final Four, the parties hosted by the ABL and the WNBA reflected the rival leagues' images. Fittingly, the ABL held the first party, much as it had tipped things off in U.S. women's pro basketball in the fall of 1996. Just as fittingly, the WNBA came along the next night and threw a gig that was flashier and better attended.

Both leagues made their presence known, particularly to this year's top seniors. During last Saturday's All-Star Game, the stands were dotted with suitors: Carol Blazejowski, general manager of the WNBA's New York liberty, sat one row up from Pam Batalis, general manager of the ABL's New England Blizzard. Brian Agler, who has guided his Columbus Quest to two straight ABL tides, was there, as was Liberty coach Nancy Darsch.

Connecticut's Nykesha Sales sat on the Fast team's bench, still recovering from her famously torn Achilles. But she didn't have to worry about missing a chance to impress the pros. The leagues were represented at every UConn game last season, and after injuring herself on Feb. 21, Sales received cards from coaches in both leagues. Like the other leading players, Sales says she hasn't made a choice between the ABL and the WNBA. She'll have to soon. The WNBA will hold its predraft camp, admission to which is a signed contract, from April 16 to 18. The ABL has an invite-only predraft combine April 22-26.

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