Commentary

What's next? Q&A on the NBA's gambling scandal

Originally Published: August 14, 2007
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

As we await the next chapter in the NBA gambling controversy, what we still don't know is exactly which games alleged fixer Tim Donaghy might have compromised, and in what manner Donaghy might have affected the outcomes of those games.

That information is presumably known only by Donaghy, his attorney and some mobsters, although it might have been passed along to prosecutors since Donaghy has been cooperating with them. On Wednesday, Donaghy pleaded guilty to two felony charges for his involvement in a conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmit wagering information through interstate commerce.

ESPN.com has spoken with two high-profile attorneys -- one a former federal prosecutor now litigating NBA-related issues, the other a lawyer who worked closely with the NBA in the past. They offered insight into what's ahead for Donaghy, and when the details of Donaghy's transgressions might become public.

We'll use their guidance to maneuver through the first few items in the following list of questions moving forward in the Tim Donaghy scandal.

1. What will happen to Donaghy now that he's pleaded guilty?

His sentencing could be put off until he is finished cooperating with prosecutors, which might entail his testifying at a trial of the mobsters with whom he is alleged to have been associated.

At Donaghy's sentencing, he would be required to make a statement to the court acknowledging exactly what he did to break the law. Donaghy might not be compelled to detail exactly which games might have been influenced, so the info conceivably could remain a mystery even after his sentencing (although the FBI's files on the investigation become public record once the agency declares it a closed case).

2. So it could be years before we know the exact games?

Perhaps so, unless Stern wants to make that information public. But Stern said on July 24, "I do not know the number of games. I do not know which games." In that case, it becomes a question of whether and when the FBI is going to give that information to Stern.

3. But what's stopping Stern from sitting on that information once it is made known to him?

Nothing, really. But if the commissioner is going to fulfill his pledge to keep the public informed about the developments in this case, he owes it to fans to tell them the truth. And until the public is told exactly which games might have been compromised, there will remain an element of mystery here that's just too big for many folks to get past.

So no matter what Stern does to reform the refereeing system, I believe a substantial number of people aren't going to listen to him make promises about the future until he reconciles exactly what happened in the past.

4. When might Stern know all the details?

It's impossible to say.

One of the only people who actually could answer every question Stern has is Donaghy himself, which brings up an interesting point: If Donaghy wants to curry favor with the judge who eventually will sentence him, it'll work in his favor if he's able to tell the court that he sat down with one of his victims (the NBA) and spilled his guts.

But Donaghy would not be permitted to speak to the NBA unless prosecutors allowed it.

5. How will Stern try to fix things?

He's going to have to find a way to restore the public's confidence in his referees, and to that end he spoke Tuesday of being "transparent" in going forward.

Here's one suggested solution: Make all the referees' postgame reports public by posting them on the Web.

Here's another: Lift the restrictions on referees speaking publicly. If there's a disputed call at the end of the game, let the sideline reporters interview the lead ref.

Stern has to find a way to humanize these guys, and the NBA has to share more of its referee data with the public.

6. What new policies or systems will they put in place?

The NBA will spend the rest of the summer thinking about that, but one thing seems clear: The league office will have to improve the way it communicates with and monitors the gambling industry, since those people -- not only the Nevada state regulators, but the guys who set the lines, too -- are the ones best trained to spot something suspicious.

7. Is the public going to turn away from the NBA because of this scandal?

By some measures, the general American public has been turning away since the end of the Bulls' dynasty, and this fiasco isn't going to help bring it back.

Perhaps the first thing the league needs to do is worry about restoring its integrity with the fans who have stuck around, because if those folks start abandoning the sport, the hard-core customer base begins to shrink. And the hard-core fans are the lifeblood of any professional sports league.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.