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Conspiracy theory: Is the NFL, Super Bowl, NBA, NHL, UFC rigged - fixed?

Former sports fixer Joe Gagliano breaks down how easy, and difficult, it is to rig pro sports in America

How hard would it be to fix the Super Bowl?

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The New England Patriots’ miraculous comeback to beat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI last week was so incredible it was as if a higher power was pulling the strings.

Conspiracy theorists had a field day in the immediate aftermath of what will go down as one of, if not the greatest Super Bowl of all-time. Those in the tin foil hats pointed out that the Falcons hardly attempted to burn the clock late in the game, and that FOX – which broadcast the game – posted a graphic before New England won that read, “New England Patriots – wins Super Bowl with touchdown.” (Likely just poor grammar from a production assistant).

The Super Bowl truthers also claim that James White’s knee was down before he scored the game-winning TD, and the truly nutty believe President Donald Trump and even Russian President Vladimir Putin had their fingerprints on the game. After all, Trump is buddy-buddy with Patriots owner Robert Kraft and both Trump and Kraft have a history with Putin (Putin once stole one of Kraft’s Super Bowl rings, so last week’s win was reimbursement).

As fun as those theories are, football is likely the most difficult game in all of American pro sports to rig.

Metro recently spoke with Joe Gagliano, author of the new book No Grey Areas, about how difficult it would be to rig a pro football game and how easy (or hard) it would be to fix other major sports in the U.S.. Gagliano financed, orchestrated, and was later indicted for his role in one of the most prominent point-shaving scandals in U.S. history in the Arizona State basketball case of the 1990s.

Football

As much as Patriots haters would like it to be the case, Gagliano believes the Super Bowl was on the up and up.

“In football, you’ve got 11 guys on the field,” Gagliano told Metro. “Even if you had a quarterback in your pocket it’d be next to impossible, and you’re just not going to get an NFL quarterback because they’re just so highly compensated. There’s just no way to motivate a quarterback to fix a game because they’re already making so much money.

“You’re not going to get a college quarterback either, because if he throws two or three interceptions in the first quarter of a game – the coach is going to yank him.”

Even kickers, who are paid significantly less than QBs but have a direct influence on game point totals, would have a tough time “rigging” a contest, according to Gagliano.

“The kicker needs to be in a situation where he’s going to directly impact the line,” Gagliano said. “It’s really difficult to get to that point. He has no control over how well his offense or defense is playing. If I was a kicker and I was on the take, I know I could not control my own destiny.”

Basketball

Gagliano’s cash cow was basketball, but he says it has become increasingly difficult over the years to rig what occurs on the court.

“In the NBA it’s next to impossible today as well,” he said. “A couple referees have tried to do it and even they were hovering around the 70 percent mark in terms of success. It’s so tough to do it. Even a lower paid bench player - that player is going to get yanked if he’s having a bad night.

“When I was doing this thing in 93-94, I had a guy who was leading the NCAA in minutes played. He completely dictated everything that happened on the floor for that team. He had the ball 80 percent of the time when the team was on offense. And I had the other guard on the team too [working for me]. So nothing happened on that team without one of those two guys dictating it.

Nowadays you can’t do that because if you have a superstar freshman on a team, normally these kids are one year and done. They’re playing for NBA scouts. And there’s so much money in front of them that … there’s no reason for them to go to the dark side.”

Hockey

Team sports are obviously much more difficult to fix than individual sports (boxing, track and field, tennis) because of the number of parties that need to be involved, but Gagliano does believe that the NHL is susceptible to scandal.

“I think if you get a goalie in the twilight of his career it could be possible,” he said. “These guys don’t make a lot of money relative to the other sports. Even if you make $1 million a year, your career is typically only lasting five or six years in the NHL, and you’re paying taxes, and you’re building up a lifestyle - that money seems to go pretty quickly.

“So, you get a higher profile game on a Saturday or Sunday, and you have the goalie put three to four goals through his wickets in the first period, and you bet the over. You bet over four and a half goals, five goals – and you can probably cash your ticket at that point.

UFC

The most popular sport in the U.S. with the most red flags, according to Gagliano, is Mixed Martial Arts.

“It has the potential to be as corrupt as possible,” he said. “You look at that sport as a whole, you look at these kids – not making a lot of money. You look at the lifespan of an athlete in that sport, then you put a betting line on it? These kids are getting their brains pounded in, and there’s not a big payday there at all.

“You look at a guy like Anderson Silva – pound for pound the best fighter in the UFC for years. But he was constantly arguing and was in bitter battles with Dana White and the UFC where he thought he deserved more money and the UFC didn’t want to pay him more money.

“You look at him – a couple fights ago against Chris Weidman. [Silva] got $2.5 million. That’s a great payday for you or I, but when you’re paying training fees, taxes and traveling fees and then you realize you haven’t got much more time in your career – and you also see all the revenue that the UFC is taking in, you get bitter pretty fast.

“If you’re a kid like Anderson Silva, who grows up in Brazil and has a bunch of friends - you send your buddies to England or to Australia with a duffle bag with a half million bucks. You’re a 10-1 favorite. You get caught with a punch, or you get caught in a choke hold. Your half million bucks turns into $5 million cash off-shore. You’re not even paying taxes on that No. 1, and No. 2, the rematch in the UFC is probably worth more money than the first fight that you had. It’s just too tempting to go to the dark side in that sport.”

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