The postmark was Las Vegas and across the bottom of the envelope read: "Attention: Contents for Mr. Denlinger's eyes only." I have received all manner of subtle offers over the years, but nothing quite like:
"I have a proposition to make to you: provide me with any information that will enable me to win a bet and I will pay you 20 percent of the wager. I bet on pro and college basketball games here in Las Vegas.
"Information that will be important is, for example, health of key players, unexpected absence of a key player from a game, team morale, and any other factor that you feel would be crucial...."
That can be dismissed easily enough. What cannot is the disturbing realization that so much of sports reporting can so easily be used by people whose sole interest in games is gambling. Or even more alarming, by gamblers whose intense interest is influencing the outcome of games.
The difference between proper analysis and almost establishing a betting line is a thin one. A reporter examines, say, last season's Maryland-Penn State football game and reasons that the one significant difference is Lion quarterback Chuck Fusina.
Even a dummy gambler knows to invest heavily on State giving six points at home.
Also, we seem obsessed with injuries, reporting every hangnail. The coaches hate it, because it gives the opposition an advantage; the injured player hates it because he might otherwise have been able to hide vulnerability. Even fans hate it, because they want their teams to have every edge.
There are two major reasons for reporting injuries: one practical and the other theoretical. If a team wants attention, it had better be prepared to be covered in every fashion, its positive and negative areas exposed.
But information on injuries mainly benefits the $2 bettor. The plungers have their own pipelines, sources within teams that often are as accurate and swift as reporters. In fact, a drastic change in a betting line usually is a message that the reporter has missed something.
So, if all injuries are public knowledge, every bettor has an equal chance.
However, many bettors are like many coaches and many players. They want whatever advantage they can muster at whatever the cost. Their edge is bribing players -- or even officials -- and never has the collegiate climate been more ripe for that sort of scandal.
"We were going to Philadelphia for our game with Penn," said Georgetown basketball Coach John Thompson, "and the conductor on the train asked us what the point-spread was. And one of the guys in the hotel asked the same thing.
"It wasn't anything vague, either. Both of them came right out and said, 'What's the spread?'"
Recruiting is so intense and so much money is being made from college sports that a player with his hand out to a gambler would be sad but not shocking. While the colleges are getting geometrically more money than a generation ago, they are allowing their athletes less money.
Recruiters of one basketball player in New Jersey were told, by form letter, call a number in California for additional information. Have we reached the point that a high-school player has his own agent?
Collegiate tout sheets are sprouting throughout the country. They carry that reportorial analysis to its conclusion, noting not only that college A should beat college B, but also by how many points.
Many within college sports have tried to make touting more difficult, if not impossible, by denying the authors media access to games and tournaments and information to publications whose revenue comes from gambling ads.
When I wrote that that was nice, but hardly the final solution to changing the point-shaving mood, the sports information director at St. John's, Bill Esposito, wrote:
"... When my wife gets obscene phone calls at night when St. John's is on the road, when the president of St. John's gets letters calling for my dismissal, when I am threatened with physical harm and have to sit under guard in a Los Angeles hotel because (a tout) you note we 'smugly say no to,' is on the prowl with some muscle which even frightened the hotel's house officer... I get good and... mad.
"I'm no one to point an accusing finger at anyone else's morals. I formed the Gambling Awareness Committee (of collegiate sports information directors) as a means to cut down collegiate athletics' part in a direct or indirect tie -- via gambling ads and tout sheets -- to organized crime. The minute we began, the abuse came on our heads and we were called holier than thou, moral crusaders, lily-white virgins.
"You are right... Coaches are permitted to dismiss all laws about recruiting, athletic directors sit on their hands and do nothing when the students at their home games act like animals... and alumni contribute funds to alma mater on the rise and fall of their football or basketball team's success.
"And newspapermen love winners... of the worst offenders of NCAA rules about recruiting, bench conduct and academic control have been worshiped by sportswriters as colorful contributors to the American way of life. Many sportswriters who complain about the ills of college sport write for the same magazines (who make such of their income from tout-sheet ads).
"We lost our case, the Gambling Awareness Committee of COSIDA failed; I failed. And I don't feel too good about it."
And neither should anyone else.