The reaction to Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley’s year-long suspension for betting on NFL games was a mixed bag.
There was the expected condemnation of him for doing something against the rules. There were more lighthearted responses and jokes. There was questioning of the length of his ban relative to other, more serious infractions. Then there were criticisms of the NFL for the hypocrisy of its relationship with sportsbooks and push to popularize betting while expecting it not to infiltrate their ranks.
On Tuesday, The Daily Show host Trevor Noah injected a lesser expressed perspective into the conversation:
“I don’t understand why athletes aren’t allowed to bet, you know? Why can’t they bet on the sport. “
What if we just let Calvin Ridley and other pro athletes bet on games? pic.twitter.com/KBwHPdGEr3
– The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) March 8, 2022
The knee-jerk reaction to that question is to assume Noah is ignorant for even posing the question. Athletes would be able to throw games, manipulate props and all sorts of other wild things that directly impact the outcomes of games and bets. There’s no way this could work… or could it?
What if there was a way to allow NFL players to bet, but limit what they could bet on. This already exists in a way, as players are allowed to bet on other sports.
Noah called for players to even be able to bet on their own teams. There’s no way that could ever be allowed for obvious reasons. But if they could place bets on teams other than the one (or ones) they’ve played for in a given season, and stay limited to moneyline bets, what’s the worst that could happen? What inside information does a Chicago Bears player have to help him pick a winner between the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs? So what he has a friend on one of those teams?… So do hundreds of people who don’t play in the NFL. If that was the play, these players have relatives they could funnel bets through.
Allowing betting on spreads and totals is too risky because if a couple players or more wanted to, it’d be easy to work together to shave points. Similarly, prop bets – especially stat-driven player props – would leave open the opportunity for collaborators across teams to share information about gameplans or simply limit how much they produce against a certain prop. And once insider information is used and leaked, markets could see dramatic shifts.
But simple win-loss betting? That seems a little more feasible if only a platform existed that was designed specifically to limit how and what pro athletes could bet. And sure, make it public like Noah said. Nobody was actually hurt by what Ridley did.
However, even with those restrictions in place, allowing betting would still impact the perception of integrity in the NFL’s games, which gets to the heart of why this is a fun thought exercise but probably wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, ever happen. It doesn’t matter if there’s a way players can bet without a built in advantage. If fans and other bettors believe they have an advantage, and might be doing something to impact the results of games that are already decided by the smallest of margins, that chips away at credibility.
Once the league’s credibility is gone, it’s only a matter of time before its core fans follow.