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NCAA's gambling madness

The more the NCAA turns men's basketball into a commercial event, the more its students lose.

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The Final Four of NCAA men's basketball is the nation's fourth-largest gambling event. And the bigger it gets, the more the NCAA tries to counteract the potential bad effects of all this wagering on its "scholar-athletes."

Public interest in NCAA basketball largely centers on informal contests among family, friends, and colleagues to guess the winners by filling out a chart for the 63 games. This "bracketology," as it's called, easily slips into making bets. For many people, it also leads to big financial losses or a spiral into gambling addiction. [Editor's note: ]

The NCAA knows that gambling is corrupting its big sports, or at least its image. A 2004 poll found 35 percent of male college athletes and 10 percent of female athletes gambled on college or pro sports events. Another poll, done last year by New Jersey-based Seton Hall University, found that about one-fifth of Americans believed college basketball players intentionally influenced the outcome of games because of gambling interests.

Yet despite such worrisome figures, the association has become overcommercialized, such as signing a $6 billion contract with CBS, the biggest single sports deal in history. The basketball finals are now a major media event, earning so much money that critics say the NCAA and its more than 1,000 members are exploiting students.

To its credit, the NCAA enforces its rules well with member schools, and recently it set up a website (www.dontbetonit.org) to warn both players and the public about the dangers of gambling on NCAA games. The site includes testimony from convicted offenders.

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