If you turned off last night’s game between Duke and Utah early, you missed it. And by “early” I mean at any point in the first 39 minutes and 59 seconds of the game.

But that’s weird, you might be saying, because a game only lasts 40 minutes. How could turning off a game with anything more than one second left be considered early? Welcome to the scummy side of sports wagering.

Allow me me walk you through sports betting 101 (and that number has nothing to do with an over/under, either). I fully expect anyone who found their way onto this website already knows a lot about it, but you never know. So here goes.

Let’s say you’re a Duke alum. If the team wins a game by 20 points and moves on to the next round of the tournament, that’s great. That’s what you want to happen.

But let’s say that the game is closer than that. Let’s say your Blue Devils are in a struggle, but the end of the game comes around and your team is only five points ahead. That’s fine, because it means you get to move into the regional finals on Sunday. One win away from another Final Four! Go Duke!

But let’s say there’s another group of people. And they didn’t go to Duke, in all likelihood. Whether Duke moves on in the tournament doesn’t matter to them in the least. But they’re still very interested in the outcome of the game. You might even say the final score is the only thing they care about.

Sports wagering is a huge industry in this country, even though Nevada is the only state that allows it to occur legally. In 49 states, the outcome of the Duke-Utah game meant only that people’s brackets and Final Four teams were either preserved or busted. So the last 0.7 seconds of the game mattered not at all to them.

But the gamblers had their moment–or maybe their split second–at the very end of the game. Literally, it was the last second of the game. And if it slips by unnoticed, then shame on all of us for allowing it to happen.

With your brackets in the NCAA tournament, it’s the team that wins the game that matters. But with gamblers, it’s the margin of victory that counts. And unless there are children on here reading this page, everyone reading this knows what the difference between them is.

The point spread on last night’s game was Duke by five or five and a half points. If you bet on Utah, you were good so long as the Utes won the game by any margin whatsoever. But, to make things more interesting to some people, a person picking Utah would also win their bet if Duke did not win by at least six points. If Duke wins the game by twelve, then they’ve covered the spread. All the Duke fans are still as happy as they would otherwise be, but the gamblers who chose the favorite are pleased, as well.

So why, on a meaningless foul call with 0.7 seconds left in the game and the outcome already determined, did the two teams have to return from the locker room to shoot two final free throws? Gamblers, that’s why.

In the world of brackets, those last two free throws meant nothing at all. But in the world of wagering, those last two free throws meant everything. They meant the difference between Duke covering the spread or not. The game was not going to end until those free throws were shot. Duke made one of free throws, and the final second of the game mattered in a way that the first 39 minutes plus did not.

Millions of dollars changed hands on the last–and otherwise meaningless–free throw. That the officiating crew called the foul and insisted that the shots being taken, solely for the benefit of those who had Duke plus six points, is nothing less than an embarrassment. It’s proof–in case we ever needed it–that these games are not entirely on the up-and-up. Call off those last two free throws, already. It’s not like the outcome was going to be changed by them. But that’s not what happened, was it?

Something stinks here. One or more of the referees knew exactly what the point spread was, and was not going to let the end of somebody’s season take priority over the game’s final outcome. The Utes and their fans had their final second of the season extended, for reasons that had nothing to do with them at all. It’s nothing short of stunning, really.

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R. Lincoln Harris

R. Lincoln Harris

I'm a Chicago writer. I live in the best city on earth, and I write about the things that interest me. What more could I ever want? Other than a Cubs World Series, of course.