Big Ten: No evidence games called by referee were compromised

Updated: August 8, 2008, 9:09 PM ET
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com

A Big Ten Conference investigation into officiating conduct in two games last season found no evidence that the games were compromised, the league announced Friday.

The conference examined two games -- Illinois at Ohio State and Purdue at Penn State -- that included an officiating crew led by Stephen Pamon, a longtime Big Ten referee who was the subject of a Yahoo! Sports investigation last fall. ESPN.com has learned that the Big Ten did not renew Pamon's contract for this season.

Yahoo! Sports reported that Pamon, a Big Ten official since 1988 and chief of a seven-man crew in 2007, and his wife filed for bankruptcy in 2002 and two of the creditors were casinos. Pamon's sister-in-law, Gina Banks, told Yahoo! that Pamon regularly gambled in casinos and the gambling he and his wife participated in contributed to their bankruptcy. There was no evidence Pamon bet on sporting events.

Yahoo! Sports also reported Pamon had been charged with beating three of his girlfriend's four sons with an electrical cord. The felony charges were later reduced, and Pamon was convicted of a misdemeanor.

In its report, Yahoo! Sports never alleged that Pamon had bet on games he officiated, but two games that his crew worked came into question.

After a Nov. 3 loss to Penn State that featured several debatable calls, Purdue coach Joe Tiller filed an official complaint to the league. A week later, Pamon's crew worked the Illinois-Ohio State game, which also featured some controversial moments.

The Sporting News reported that Pamon and his crew were suspended for the final week of the regular season. But Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany disputed that report on Friday, telling ESPN.com that Pamon's crew was not assigned to a game that week and not suspended from working.

The Big Ten spoke with Pamon during its investigation, which included law enforcement officials, NCAA officials and a private investigative firm, Las Vegas Sports Consultants Inc.

The good that came out of this is the processes are tighter. The bad situation is we didn't do everything we could have done because we weren't doing it annually. Once you do it, you have to do it really well, and we could have done it better.

--Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany on the league's background checks of game officials.

"It was a very extensive review, from officiating to talking to people in Las Vegas to talking to Pamon to talking to government officials," Delany said. "It's hard to prove a negative, that they didn't [make mistakes], but we found no evidence in any of our follow-ups, done by other people and ourselves, that indicated there was anything wrong in those games.

"We talked to [Pamon] specifically about sports gambling in these games more generally, and he adamantly contested the notion. He said, 'I've never done that. I've never gambled on sports, legally or illegally or anything else.'"

Delany said there are usually three to six bad calls in every game, including the two games in question, but the investigation attributed those calls to judgment and nothing else.

Sports betting analyst R.J. Bell of Pregame.com told ESPN.com's Wayne Drehs that a disproportionate amount of money was bet on the eventual winning teams in both games, but Delany said, "We found people who were telling us that wasn't true at all."

Pamon's bankruptcy filing did appear on a background check the Big Ten reviewed in 2005, but the league misinterpreted the designation. The report listed "bankruptcy dismissed," which the league incorrectly understood in literal terms. "What it really means in a credit report is the protection of bankruptcy has been taken away, which is not a good thing," Delany said. "So that one was on us. We had seen it, but we misinterpreted it."

Delany said the league would have followed up with Pamon if it had correctly interpreted the note. The result likely would have impacted the league's decision on whether to retain Pamon's services, he said.

The Big Ten will now conduct annual background checks of all its football officials, Delany said. It will also require officials to disclose their non-sports-related gambling and prohibit them from gambling during the periods when they officiate games.

Delany also plans to devote more resources to the checks, which are conducted by the league's lawyers and third-party firms.

"The good that came out of this is the processes are tighter," he said. "The bad situation is we didn't do everything we could have done because we weren't doing it annually. Once you do it, you have to do it really well, and we could have done it better.

"In addition, we will enhance our monitoring and oversight of officials' gambling activities that are legal yet unrelated to sports. Officials will be required to disclose any non-sports-related gambling activities, and they will be prohibited from engaging in these activities during the period of time encompassing their officiating assignments."

Adam Rittenberg covers the Big Ten for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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