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Athletic Competition and Institutionalized Manipulation from Gambling

Feb. 10, 2022

Former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores is suing the NFL, and various other teams for discrimination regarding coaching interviews and was treated unfairly by the Dolphins during his three seasons in Miami. Flores further alleges he was pushed to tank the Dolphins in order to improve their draft position.

During the 2019, Flores led the team to a 5-11 record, winning three of their last five games. Flores alleges that team owner Stephen Ross wanted him to intentionally lose games. He went on to say that Ross even offering a bounty for losses. Alleged is that Stephen Ross, told Mr. Flores that he would pay him $100,000 for every loss, and the team’s General Manager, Chris Grier, told Mr. Flores that “Steve” was “mad” that Mr. Flores’ success in winning games that year was “compromising [the team’s] draft position.”

Similarly, in the 2021 season, sportscasters were wondering why two teams playing during a certain game would not consider the idea on “taking a knee” so they could both get into the playoffs, as opposed to going for the win; thereby sacrificing the loser of that game and to allow the Pittsburgh Steelers into the chase for the Super Bowl? Is this a justifiable consideration? Is that decision as part of that game? Or, is there just too much money in the game and outside the game in the gambling world?

Is this business judgment flying in the face of sports integrity? If it is as was accused, is the long-term capacity of a team to win, and further, the gambling revenue from sporting events, institutionalizing manipulation.

The notion of sports integrity means playing the game according to the rules, resulting in “fair and honest performances and outcomes, unaffected by illegitimate enhancements or external interests. Sports integrity has both on-field and off-field components. Currently, for preserving the multibillion-dollar sports industry, it is essential for the public to believe in the integrity of the games or events. The outcome of a sporting competition needs to be genuine. A key characteristic of on-field integrity is outcome uncertainty. Competitive sport is supposedly unscripted, leaving open the possibility of an upset and a surprise.

Likewise, the very legitimacy of the “sport product” and its appeal to fans depends on this unpredictability and authenticity. Authenticity in turn requires that all game participants use their best efforts. It should be free from the manipulation of the competition. Therefore, competition manipulation has been defined as: “an intentional arrangement, act or omission aimed at improper alteration of the result or the course of a sports competition in order to remove all or part of the unpredictable nature of the aforementioned sports competition with a view to obtaining an undue advantage for oneself or for others.” COUNCIL OF EUROPE CONVENTION ON THE MANIPULATION OF SPORTS COMPETITIONS 3 (2014). More to the point, match-fixing occurs when contestants are “willing to reduce their effort contribution for specific matches if the rewards for doing so are large enough” for example because gambling provides “an opportunity to generate returns on the insider information.” Ian Preston & Stefan Szymanski, Cheating in Contests, 19 OXFORD REV. OF ECON. POL’Y 612 (2003). 20 INT’L OLYMPIC COMM., HANDBOOK ON PROTECTING SPORT FROM COMPETITION MANIPULATION.

A competition “fix” may be motivated by financial gain, e.g., enabling a winning bet, or by sporting advantage, e.g., manipulating to affect seeding in a tournament or to guarantee advancement. But what if the logistics of a sporting league, such as the National Football League, does in fact allow or at least turns an eye to the notion that by creating a losing season when a winning season is currently not obtainable or will otherwise not result in a net gain beyond winning a game or games, constitutes justification for essentially throwing a game or two because of the standings and related drafting opportunities in the following season may be advantageous? Does this behavior or predisposition beyond the sporting event then being played, constitute a legitimate “business decision” for the long-term prospects for a team’s future, balanced against time when the eventual corruption is exposed and the values associated with sport are exposed as a farce?

Compare or contrast this to the notion of “sport spreads,” which is a way of handicapping a game so as to a balanced a sporting event for the purpose of betting? Can decisions even effect the game that is currently taking place, as it relates to the spread in that game, which can be justified by the decision to consider the drafting rights in order to turn around a bad or mediocre team into a better one?

Sports manipulation may becoming a “legal crime” that imposes tangible injury on real victims, namely the sport’s governing body, and its fans, sponsors, related industries, and non-complicit participants such as coaches of the various teams. Gambling, which ruined so many famous players’ reputations may find that what they did in their times, is now watered down by the merger of the sports being played and the wager. Bet on it!