DETROIT – Wednesday night, upon arriving here at the Final Four, North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson, a teammate and a basketball staffer went to one of the city's three casinos to play some craps.
"I went over to Greektown and won about $250," Lawson said.
This apparently troubled some people. NCAA president Myles Brand even reminded that while the organization doesn't prohibit casino gambling by a 21-year-old, "it's highly discouraged."
"If we don't want those kids doing it," said Carolina coach Roy Williams, "don't put the Final Four in a city where the casino is 500 yards from our front door."
Williams laughed, of course, noting that "they got a great buffet in there." Well, he mostly laughed. The entire "controversy" is a joke, although the coach was more than a bit baffled that anyone would have a big issue with someone doing something legal. What else do you want the players to do?
"You know when we got here? Wednesday," Williams said. "I mean, I'm not going to tell my guys they've got to stay in the room and watch Bill Cosby reruns for four days."
Writing a column about NCAA hypocrisy is the proverbial fish in the barrel. And doing so on Ty Lawson's gambling only furthers the discussion of something that should be ignored. Lawson did nothing wrong. So, in a sense, this column is part of the problem.
Still, our nation's bizarre, inconsistent stance on gambling is always fascinating to witness, especially when enormous bureaucratic organizations are doing the scolding of single individuals.
College basketball games are occasionally played in casinos. Schools regularly hold 50-50 raffles at games. The Final Four is held in cities with casinos – it's not like Detroit's just sprung up overnight. When it's the NCAA or a member institution that could profit from gambling, it's mostly OK.
"You know where I was supposed to stay if my team hadn't come?" Williams said of the coach's hotel here. "Caesar's Palace. The dunk contest last night; who is it sponsored by? A casino."
The concept that playing a table game could somehow lead to game fixing is a massive reach. Yes, a player could lose a lot of money gambling, get desperate for cash and then decide to fix a game.
They could also just be poor.
It's not like the guy raking Lawson's dice Wednesday night doubles as a bookie. It's not like the ownership of the Greektown Casino does either.
The NCAA's paranoia about gambling stems from a fear of point shaving. Worrying about that is understandable. The most likely way for a player to get into a jam, however, is with a bookie, not a casino, let alone a casino that doesn't offer sports wagering.
A bookie extends a line of credit and is potentially backed by an operation that might want to utilize its leverage on a compromised star. A casino won't.
There may be a bookie in every college dorm in America. Often that sophomore down the hall isn't operating without some connection to a bigger operation. In terms of places where Lawson could've gotten himself in trouble, a craps table in Detroit might've been safer than a student lounge in Chapel Hill.
One of the best ways to guard against point shaving is to legalize and legitimize sports gambling. It can take it out of the underworld.
Yet the NCAA, along with the NFL, is lobbying against a proposal by Delaware Gov. Jack Markell to reauthorize sports gambling in his state. Markell estimates it could produce $55 million annually in tax revenue.
The NCAA has said it would prohibit any playoff games in Delaware if the proposal passes – a threat essentially limited to the occasional University of Delaware football playoff game. We're guessing the people of Delaware would trade that for $55 million a year.
Currently the only state you can wager on sports is Nevada, which because of its strict regulations and constant monitoring actually serves as a safety net that occasionally catches point shaving. For its troubles, the NCAA won't stage even a sub-regional in Las Vegas or Reno and no major professional league will put a franchise there.
Here in metro Detroit, the NCAA got the sports book at the Caesar's just across the river in Windsor, Ontario, to not accept bets on the two Final Four games and the national championship game.
That's a reasonable request, but the overall debate is silly even with the recognition of how a gambling problem can ruin a life as quickly as alcohol or drugs.
Sports wagering occurs in every single community in America. Fighting its legalization or holding onto some outdated morality that frowns on the table games that have sprouted up coast to coast isn't changing that fact. It's just grandstanding.
Gambling is so prevalent and accepted, Roy Williams not only lets his of-age players do it, but also he readily admits to throwing dice himself.
To the NCAA, "it's highly discouraged." To one of the game's signature coaches that hypocrisy is such a joke he doesn't mind rubbing it in their face.
"What a great country we live in," Williams mocked.
- Ty Lawson