Hoops joy - and fear

Published April 4, 2024

By Gary Pearce

I’m as passionate about NC State basketball as I am about Democratic Party politics.

So, I’m celebrating the men AND women making the Final Four.

I also have a nagging fear about college basketball this year.

It stems from the explosion of sports gambling, which came to North Carolina the same time as March Madness.

UNC star Armando Bacot spoke out about what happened next:

“It’s terrible…. I thought I played pretty good last game, but I looked at my DMs, and I got over 100 messages from people telling me I sucked and stuff like that because I didn’t get enough rebounds.”

North Carolina has seen how this game could end.

Steve Riley and John Drescher tell the sordid story in The Assembly, “Decades After a Scandal, North Carolina Places a Big Bet”:

“On a Saturday morning in May 1961, Bill Friday, president of what’s now called the UNC System, received a call at home from Lester Chalmers, the Wake County prosecutor. ‘I need to talk with you,’ Chalmers said. They agreed to meet that day at Friday’s office on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.

“Chalmers told Friday that gamblers paid N.C. State players to shave points at a Dixie Classic game the prior December against Georgia Tech.”

When the players didn’t deliver on the fix, the gamblers pulled guns on them outside Reynolds Coliseum. No one was shot, but the message was sent.

Then two UNC players were implicated. Eventually, 50 players at more than 25 schools were caught up in the scandal.

President Friday (photo) acted decisively. He cancelled the wildly popular Dixie Classic tournament, limited basketball scholarships at State and UNC, and cut back their seasons.

To the day he died in 2012, he spoke out about the risks of big-time college sports.

Now, college basketball is bigger than ever.

The gambling stakes are higher than ever.

And the gamblers are higher-placed than ever.

As Riley and Drescher report, a sports-gambling executive is vice chair of the UNC Board of Trustees. He’s Malcolm Turner, head of strategy and corporate development for DraftKings.

This year, college basketball has taken us to the highest highs.

Sixty years ago, gambling took it to the lowest of lows.

As we celebrate now, we all must challenge ourselves – UNC President Peter Hans, the Board of Governors, trustees, chancellors, coaches, players and, yes, we fans – to protect athletic greatness against greed