How would the Malcolm Butler benching have been viewed in a world of legalized gambling?
Membership in the group that calls itself the @PFTPMPosse carries with it an important obligation. Via the questions posed for every episode of the #PFTPM podcast, the ever-growing group of loyal supporters introduces concepts and ideas that probably wouldn’t have otherwise entered my relaxed brain.
Here’s a great question that emerged in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision to allow legalized sports wagering in the 49 states that don’t have it: If Patriots coach Bill Belichick had planned to bench starting cornerback Malcolm Butler for the entirety of a Super Bowl (with the exception of one special-teams play) in an environment with widespread legal gambling, would Belichick have been able to keep that to himself?
The people who legally (in Nevada) and illegally (everywhere else) bet on the Patriots to cover in Super Bowl LII surely were miffed and perplexed that Butler didn’t play. If hundreds of millions of dollars legally had been bet on the Patriots and Belichick had made such an unexpected move for reasons that he chose (as he always does) to keep to himself, the reaction may have been far different.
This is just one of the many issues that NFL will have to consider as it braces for the unintended consequences of something that, on the surface, will result in much greater revenue for the sport. And it will be important for the league to anticipate the many unintended consequences and plan for them.
Given the Butler case, the NFL may need to demand a greater degree of transparency not just as to injuries (where there’s currently a very limited degree of transparency, thanks to the bare-bones injury reports) but also as to strategic departures from the reasonably expected status quo. Teams eventually may have to publish binding depth charts within, say, 48 hours before kickoff. Other than players listed as questionable or worse on the injury report, the starters as listed on the official depth chart would then be starting the next game.
But that would have unintended consequences, too, with coaches easily avoiding the spirit of the rule by listing a player as a starter -- and then benching him after as little as only one play. So then the question would become whether the players listed as starters would be required to participate in a certain number of snaps barring injury or gross ineffectiveness. Which then would open the door for teams to claim a player was injured and/or grossly ineffective when perhaps he actually wasn’t.
It could quickly become an effort to juggle Jello for the league, with coaches who strive for maximum secrecy (and who already resent having to make basic disclosures about injuries) doing anything they can to find a way to comply with efforts to prevent another Butler debacle while keeping the flexibility to do whatever they want to do without explaining themselves to anyone. But the NFL will have a good reason to come up with something that works, and to compel the coaches to go along with it.
The unspoken nightmare scenario for the league office continues to be the creation of an independent agency charged with overseeing professional football. If enough gambling controversies emerge, whether due to corruption, incompetence, or an awkward intersection between coaches who want to win football games and gamblers who want to win money, the NFL may lose its stubborn insistence to handle its own business.
And if it seems far fetched to think that government would get involved in something like this, consider the overall purpose and mission of the Securities and Exchange Commission.