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ESPN's Bill Simmons and Chad Millman on why sportswriters shouldn't be allowed to gamble on sports

This week in the Phoenix, media columnist Sean Kerrigan asks whether sportswriters ought to be allowed to bet on the sports they cover. No other journalistic specialty would allow anything close to this: financial reporters, for instance, can't write about stocks they own. And the media has been getting very sensitive to even small-bore conflicts of interest: Keith Olbermann was fined by MSNBC for making small donations to democratic candidates. Yet, if he suddenly landed back on the SportsCenter desk at ESPN, it probably wouldn't be against the rules for him to lay a bet on football. This Sunday's Super Bowl will yield about $90 million in legal betting for Nevada, but most estimates are that illegal gambling on the game amounts to ten times that amount. What's more, as Kerrigan reports, a recent survey suggests that 40 percent of sportswriters gamble on sports.

READ: Sucker Bet: Should sportswriters be allowed to gamble on sports?

What's so bad about sportswriters betting on sports? Theoretically, at least, sportswriters have the power to affect the odds on a game they could be betting on -- and they can do so either by revealing information about a game, or by witholding information about a game. Kerrigan focuses on the case of BILL SIMMONS, whose influential espn.com columns and top-rated podcast (2 million downloads monthly) routinely delve deep into advice on betting, as well as frank discussions of Simmons' own legal and extralegal wagers. Simmons, for instance, told his audience that he knew Patriots QB Tom Brady was playing with a stress fracture in his right foot -- but he didn't reveal that tidbit until well after the Patriots' stunning loss to the Jets, and never brought it up during a previous podcast that thoroughly discussed the gambling environment around the Jets-Pats game (a game which Simmons said he had money on.)

Although ESPN declined to make Simmons available for comment, Simmons helpfully explained the case against letting sportswriters bet on sports -- even better than we could -- in his most recent B.S. Report podcast. In the course of interviewing fellow espn.com columnist and gambling expert CHAD MILLMAN, Simmons presented the ultimate case of why sportswriters should never, ever, ever be allowed to wager on sports: because, in some cases, they're the ones determining the outcome of the wager. And, equally as important, sportswriters are poorly paid burnouts who are totally available to be bought.

The example Simmons and Millman discussed was the Super Bowl's Most Valuable Player -- a bet that you cannot place legally in Vegas. Because, as Millman pointed out, it's decided mostly by a small group of sportswriters sitting in the press box. 

Bill Simmons: It would seem like the Super Bowl MVP bet would be a great way for [Vegas] to clean up.

Chad Millman: Well, [Vegas] can’t do the Super Bowl MVP, because it’s not decided on the field. 

BS: Oh, so you’re talking — that’s only for [offshore gambling] websites . . . 

CM: That’s only for websites, yeah.

BS: Or bookies . . .

CM: Because you and I — well, not you and I, but people in the press box at the game, can decide who’s going to be the Super Bowl MVP. There could be collusion, and all of a sudden if everyone is saying, “Aaron Rodgers is going to be the MVP,” but 10 different writers in the press box have all colluded to say who’s going to be the MVP and bet a buttload of it in Vegas, then they can’t really do that [Vegas can’t take the bet].

BS: That could be one the great scandals in the history of sports. How many people decide the MVP?

CM: It’s probably like 30 guys in the press box.

BS: See, all you would need is 16...

CM: Yeah, it’s totally true. 

(In fact, according to NFL.com: In the fourth quarter, fans can vote for the Super Bowl MVP on NFL.com/Superbowl and on their wireless devices, including those with the Sprint wireless service. The fan vote will count 20 percent -- four votes -- with another 16 on-site media members representing the other 80 percent.)

BS: (laughing) It’s a great sports movie.

CM: (laughing) “The collusion of the MVP.”

BS: So [in odds currently published on gambling websites] you’ve got Donald Driver at 25-to-1, and Heath Miller at 25-to-1, and you get 16 sportswriters to just say, “All right, [if] Pittsbugh wins we’re all going Miller, and if Green Bay wins, we’re all going Driver.”

CM: You’re toally right. It’s like all these guys who are on their last legs in the industry, the newspaper industry is dying, and they’re like, “Screw it, dude, we are outta here, taking all of our 401Ks, which are being drained anyway, putting it on this MVP, and we’re going to buy an island.

BS: The movie would be called “Press Boxed.” You’d need 16 — you’ve got to remember, sports guys, they’re delighted if the chicken finger has more chicken in it than usual. It’s not a lot to push these guys over the edge. 

CM: I can’t believe you’d demean our brethren like that.

BS: I’m just saying that in the press box, anything goes. They’re available to do anything —

CM: They’re for sale. At least the guys I know are completely for sale.

BS: We’re gonna pitch this movie to a bunch of movie producers.

CM: Let’s get it done.

The only thing you'd need after that? How about a young, up-and-coming sportswriter to cover the scandal?

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