Country singer Moe Bandy’s classic song ”It’s a Cheating Situation” was about romance and betrayal but the title also aptly describes current episodes in sports of all kinds.

A recent example: The 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball championship game between the University of Kansas and the University of North Carolina. It was exciting to see the largest come-from-behind victory in the championship game, but I had a nagging feeling amidst the hoopla that something wasn’t right.  It certainly was incongruous to see NCAA president Mark Emmert present the championship trophy to Kansas coach Bill Self, who the NCAA has called a cheater.

The NCAA has charged Self with three Level 1 violations (the most severe possible) and his employer the University of Kansas with five Level 1 violations.  The NCAA labeled the infractions “serious” and “egregious” (Self and Kansas are contesting the charges.)

Similarly, the University of North Carolina admitted in 2017 that for almost two decades it gave many athletes course credit for fake classes, classes that had no instructor and never met, to keep them eligible. And the NCAA took no punitive action.

Concurrent with the NCAA basketball tournament, the Bob Baffert appeals of his 90-day suspension by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and his ban from Churchill Downs in 2022 and 2023 over the Medina Spirit medication disqualification in the 2021 Kentucky Derby were playing out in court…to no avail. But horrible publicity for horse racing had once again surfaced.

Unethical and/or illegal behavior to skirt rules have plagued track and field, cycling, figure skating, the NFL, the NBA, MLB, and other sports.  But it is not just sports.  Witness the well-to-do people who have gone to jail over buying their children’s way into prestigious academic institutions of higher learning.

An unanswerable question is whether society today is more corrupt than it was, say, 75-to-100 years ago.  The answer is likely “no.”  Human nature does not change much if at all.  Today’s technology has revealed shady practices that in the not-too-distant past might have gone undetected.  For example, the aforementioned college basketball scandal was detected with FBI wiretaps and the drug violation by the 15-year-old Russian figure skating sensation at the 2022 Olympics was found via sophisticated lab testing.

A sport like horse racing that depends on bettors for sustenance cannot attract new fans and enhance pari-mutuel revenue with repeated high-profile drug scandals like have occurred in the recent past.  Revelations of doping at racetracks feed the narrative that horses and bettors are being mistreated.  And when the Kentucky Derby is tainted by a disqualification over a prohibited drug, the bad publicity has reached the apex.

Unfortunately, the evidence is persuasive that horse racing regulators and racetracks must proceed on the empirically-confirmed presumption that some people will game the system if permitted to do so.  Stringent penalties for repeat offenders are necessary. Otherwise, pari-mutuel wagering will lose its reputation and its customers.

Copyright © 2022 Horse Racing Business