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You Wanna Bet?

Following a recent team practice session, one of the coaches rapidly completed his post-practice responsibilities and, dashing to his car, told his fellow coaches, “See you guys tomorrow. I’ve got to get to my fantasy draft league meeting.” On another occasion earlier this summer, while engaged in a baseball conversation, one person in the group,

Following a recent team practice session, one of the coaches rapidly completed his post-practice responsibilities and, dashing to his car, told his fellow coaches, “See you guys tomorrow. I’ve got to get to my fantasy draft league meeting.”

On another occasion earlier this summer, while engaged in a baseball conversation, one person in the group, while checking his phone, declared, “Good, Aaron Judge hit a home run.”

“I didn’t know you were a Yankee fan?” I asked.

“I’m not,” was his reply, “But I have Judge on my fantasy team.”

Oh yes, real-life fantasy. How sports rooting interests have changed.

However, so have the opinions of those charged with the responsibility of protecting the integrity of the sports they are being paid millions to oversee.

In what may seem like ancient history to some, former MLB great Pete Rose, baseball’s all-time hits leader with 4,256 hits during a 24-year career and a .303 lifetime batting average, was declared permanently banned from baseball in 1989 for betting on his team to win baseball games while he was the manager of the Cincinnati Reds. The ban included any chance he may have had to be enshrined in Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

What Rose did was against baseball’s rules, and he certainly knew it. Baseball’s Rule 21 is posted in each team’s clubhouse all across the baseball landscape. The rule reads, “Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who bets any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform, shall be declared permanently ineligible.”

Fast forward to April 27, 2021, when MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was quoted on Sportico Live as saying, “Sports betting is a massive opportunity for fan engagement.”

Yes, obviously, there is a difference between fans betting on a sport and the players engaged in the game doing the same. But the influence of betting on sports and the games themselves are becoming increasingly chummier.

Manfred has been leading baseball through a variety of new rule changes using a rationale pertaining to the game’s pace of play. One of those debates includes changing nine-inning doubleheaders to seven-inning games. It might be a safe bet to say that the nine-inning doubleheaders will be here to stay. This comes from no other than Manfred himself when revealing what NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told him during that same Sportico interview:

“He said Adam Silver told him to stop talking about pace of the game because baseball’s pace of game is perfect for sports betting (meaning wagering between pitches).”

And then there is NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who voiced his stance against legalized gambling in a 2015 interview by asserting “that the league’s opposition will not change because of vigilance in protecting the integrity of the game on my watch.”

But four years later, Goodell was all smiles while wearing a hardhat and wielding a shovel at the groundbreaking of the Raiders’ new Las Vegas home, Allegiant Stadium. While there, he repeatedly dodged reporters’ questions about the influence of gambling in Las Vegas, calling the team’s move from Oakland, “A great thing for the league.”

So what changed Goodell’s mind about gambling?

“The gaming — it’s another way for people to engage. People will have another reason to watch football. It might bring a broader fan base who say, ‘you know what? I love that element of that.’ And now they learn more about football.”

So as the 2021 NFL season kicked off, the league has entered into partnerships with betting companies FOX Bet, BetMGM, PointBet, and WynnBet, thus ensuring that sports betting is part of the game whether the league or the commissioner would like it or not.

“Show me the money” is a memorable quote from the 1996 film Jerry Maguire. It is now a fact of life on the American sports scene. Fans are flocking to apps like Draft Kings and Fan Duel to test their knowledge of their favorite teams. Sports betting apps allow fans to draft their teams with a chance to win thousands of dollars. The marriage between the NFL and sports betting was inevitable.

With states passing their own rules on gambling, the NFL would have been on the outside looking in. The potential of forfeiting millions of dollars was too hard for the league to pass up. In 2020, the sports betting industry accounted for $1.55 billion of all gross income from gambling. Goodell and the NFL would have had to look at those figures and realize that they would be missing out on a highly popular way for fans to engage with the league.

Show Roger Goodell his 2015 words pertaining to gambling and by his 2021 actions, and you can call him a hypocrite. I $$$$$$ don’t think he cares.

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