Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The American Relevance of the Italian Soccer Scandal

The Italian soccer scandal is one of the worst in sports history. A match-fixing scandal spanning the last two years among some of Italy and Europe’s most powerful teams is serious. Four teams in Italy’s first disivion, Serie A face an array of sanctions. AC Milan stays in Serie A, but begins the year with a -15 point penalty, basically starting the season with five losses. . Juventus, Fiorentina, and Lazio will all be relegated to Serie B. Juventus also received a -30 point penalty, the equivalent of losing ten games. All four teams also forfeit their spots in the European Championship tournaments.

To put this into proper perspective for us Yanks, consider men’s college basketball for a hypothetical illustration. Big East powerhouses UConn, Syracuse and Cincinnati all are sent to Division II. Another powerhouse Villanova remains in the Big East, but forfeits 16% of its games. All four teams are also ineligible for the Big East tournament, NCAA tournament, and the preseason NIT and Maui Invitational tourneys. Since these teams are all assured of miserable years, players must also be granted their releases. UConn also essentially forfeits 26% of their games. It would essentially mean the Death Penalty handed to SMU in the 80’s.

Considering the cascading effects of the penalties, the four teams will suffer serious financial problems. There is a reasonable chance that Juventus, one of the most successful soccer clubs in the world, could go bankrupt.

Like many other sports scandals, the Italian fiasco is tied to gambling and money. It is not impossible to imagine a similar incident occurring in the US. Sports betting is a multi-billion dollar industry. There have been several point-shaving scandals in college basketball, and plenty of other rule-bending league-wide sports embarrassments.

Bet on Sports CEO David Caruthers was arrested last weekend for racketeering charges. While the arrest has no implications to any sports affiliations, it is an clear reminder of how prevalent gambling is in sports. It is a logical step that someone motivated by money would have an interest in fixing games in the US. Simply put, it’s a legitimate threat to any college and professional league. Just as Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti are obviously not the only steroid users in baseball, the same can reasonably said of Pete Rose and gambling.

What’s the solution? Each league office -not the government- must be responsible and honest about potential issues. This means the gamut of gambling, point shaving, performance drugs, recruiting scandals and whatever other schemes unscrupulous people invent. If there is evidence of wrong-doing within a sport, swift action must be taken.

As the world will see, Italian soccer is going to suffer dearly for this episode. It's an important precedent because regretfully it will not be the last time.