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College football

Meeting on gambling hits home at FSU

A symposium on the dangers of sports wagering was scheduled long before the McPherson case.

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 4, 2003

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida State athletic director Dave Hart could not help but recognize the odd timing of the school's second annual symposium on the dangers of sports wagering.

"This conference was scheduled well ahead of any knowledge that we ourselves would be looking into gambling," he said Monday morning.

Almost immediately after quarterback Adrian McPherson was dismissed from the team Nov. 25, FSU police began investigating rumors he had been gambling. The police, who simultaneously were working on a tip from a confidential informant regarding campus gambling, could announce the results of a three-month probe as early as today. Some arrests are expected.

"I think what I've thought all along, that the focus was on one person in particular," Hart said, adding he remains confident no other current student athletes will be implicated. "But one person doesn't act (alone) ... I'm not suggesting another student athlete, but somebody is leading that person in that process. Some student bookie, some middleman."

In Florida, gambling -- other than at horse and greyhound race tracks, jai alai frontons and Indian reservations -- is a misdemeanor.

McPherson, 19, of Bradenton already faces multiple felony grand theft charges. Police say he stole, forged and had a friend cash a $3,500 check from a local business, a case that prompted his dismissal from the team. Prosecutors also say McPherson bounced five personal checks he wrote for cash, $76 each. Both charges only fueled the gambling speculation.

If McPherson is implicated in gambling, the ramifications for his once-promising athletic career loom large. A student athlete guilty of wagering on sports that the NCAA sponsors faces a minimum of a one-year suspension. If a student athlete bets on his or her team -- to win or to lose -- the suspension is permanent.

The severity of the punishment underscores the NCAA's concern.

According to a recent University of Michigan survey of men's and women's basketball players and football players, nearly 35 percent admitted they gambled on sports. More ominously, 5 percent of the male student athletes said they "provided inside information for gambling purposes, bet on a game in which they participated or accepted money for performing poorly in a game."

But sanctions from the government and the NCAA were just part of the sobering message delivered during the two-hour presentation to FSU coaches and athletic department personnel. (It was repeated twice during the day for student athletes and faculty and staff.)

Benny Silman, 31, who was involved in one of the most notorious point-shaving scandals while a student at Arizona State in the mid 1990s, stressed the lifelong implications.

"I'm branded for life because of what? Because of greed and my addiction to gambling," he said. "So if I were to give you guys any advice on how to handle athletes or just college kids in general, I think a lot of this begins right here in this room.

"It's important that we get to them right away; when they first get to college, you have to scare the s--- out of them."

He did not shy away from describing the 46 months he spent in federal prison.

Rachel Newman-Baker, the NCAA's assistant director of agent, gambling and amateurism activities, said she spends a significant amount of time talking to state high school athletic associations about spotting the signs of gambling.

Although she said FSU's campuswide educational program, formed in large part by compliance director Bob Minnix, is a "model," school officials are keenly aware it hardly makes them bulletproof.

"We have never walked around with blinders on," Hart said.

"We've tried to be out front, whether it's agents or gambling ... by first of all saying, 'This could happen to us; this could happen to anybody.' "

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