Digital DNA - Chapter 4: Trouble in the Valley

(This is Chapter 4 of a seven-part short story by David Grant)

Los Angeles and Denver met in Week 1 to open the regular season. Los Angeles had beaten Denver by a touchdown in the final seconds of last season’s championship game, and the fans in Denver were still hyped about it. Los Angeles had lost their starting QB, Rich Hamilton, to the broadcasting booth at DTN, and the new quarterback was a rookie. The Denver defense couldn’t wait to get their hands on the rookie and make LA pay. The Valley casinos had Denver a three-point favorite, but LA won again, this time by a field goal as time expired. Back at league headquarters, Bobby and Roger watched as video flooded in to the data processing center at the Hall of Fame. The officials didn’t decide the game’s outcome, and that is what Bobby and Roger needed to happen. They wanted the fans to assume that the officials played no role in determining the outcome of any game. So far, all things were working just as planned.

In Week 3 of the regular season, Chicago was at home against Detroit. Not much had changed between these two teams since last season. Each team had won their game at home. The game was not sold out and was blacked out locally but televised nationally on DTN, which ticked off the major networks. The networks were already paying huge fees to the league to broadcast games, and they didn’t like the league "stealing" their audience, their ratings and possibly also their advertising money from sponsors. Chicago didn’t cover the spread, and the casinos in the Valley started processing payments seconds before the game appeared to be over. It was the first time that the casinos had lost so much money on a regular season game.

As teams played out the rest of the regular season, across the country, the over-under of scores in the league’s games continued to cost casinos millions in payouts. As the losses mounted on their books, the IFL coffers got rich on the differentials. In a secret deal made years earlier, before nearly all of the current owners were involved and while the league was just getting started and needed money, the IFL agreed that it would allow wagering on IFL games only if the IFL was able to keep the money from games that did not make the spread, something that rarely happened. Casinos agreed not only to the terms but also to never acknowledge any such agreement. There was never any paper trail on the agreement either. It was a handshake by two men, and that was it. The casinos figured that the vast majority of gambling money would hit their vaults, and if it didn’t, the IFL wouldn’t make any money anyway because the casinos would simply adjust the spread to make sure they would come out ahead. And to date, it appeared to be working, because the casinos had enjoyed decades with profits in the billions.  But this season, it was as if the IFL was suddenly able to predict the outcome of their games.

Casinos were worried that the losses during the regular season, while high, would pale in comparison to losses in the playoffs and the championship game if the current trend continued.  Miles Cida, an accountant with one of the Valley’s largest casinos and an avid football fan, made a call to his brother Turner, who was the local county prosecutor and a senior partner in one of the largest law firms in the area. As the regular season ended and the playoffs were about to begin, the casinos were getting nervous.

“T-man, how’s it going?” Miles asked. “Just fine, punk, how ya doin?” his brother responded. “Doing great, bro. Hey, quick question. You may have heard that some of us casino types have been losing real big on IFL games lately, what do you make of it?”

“Well, I would say you guys are pretty bad bookies!” Turner responded. “Oh c’mon, man. I mean, I’ve been getting ripped almost every week, somethin's gotta be up, dude, right?”

“What do you want me to do?” asked Turner. “Get hold of your ex-wife, and see what she says, ok, bro?” “Alright Miles, I’ll see if I can turn anything up, but don’t count on it. You guys are just on a bad streak, you know?” “Yeah, maybe so, but check anyways?” “Will do,” said Turner. Early the next morning, the phone rang at the LA Surfers sprawling complex in Long Beach, Calif. “Beverly Lawson, long time no talk to,” said the voice on the line. “Hello Turner, still double-billing your clients?” Bev responded. “Hey now, there’s no proof of that; what do you make of me? I make an honest living here in the Valley.” “I’m sure you do,” said Beverly. “What do I owe this unsolicited call to?” “Well, I was just talking to my brother Miles, who you know works as a bookie at one of the casinos here in the Valley, and he is concerned that the IFL games are, shall we say, rigged.” “Rigged?” replied Bev. “Yeah, you know, like set, so the outcome is already determined or something.” “That’s ridiculous, your brother is just a lousy bookie. There is no way that I know for the league to do that. And even if there was, it would likely take collaboration on an enormous scale to pull it off,” Bev said.

“What about the officials, they could throw the game?” Turner said. “Our IFL officials are all on the up and up. There’s not a snitch anywhere in there, I’m sure of it,” Bev said. “What about Bobby?” Turner asked. “I don’t like Bobby any more than you do, but if he’s involved in some way, I’m not aware of it,” Bev finished. “Well, you might want to keep an eye on him just in case. I’m just sayin,” Turner said. “Well, you should know, Turner, everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and I’m not about to spend any time tracking what Bobby does.” “OK then, thanks for your time. You should come down sometime. We could go to dinner, you know, talk about old times.”  “Bye, Turner,” Bev said, and she hung up.

At the DTN studios, Rich, Mindy and Keith were watching the start of the second half of the first game of the playoffs, taking notes and editing video for their highlight reel once the game was over. “Hey Keith,” Rich called out. “I don’t recall seeing those numbers, I mean, that time-code stuff on live video before. I thought it was laid down after or during the recording process.” “Hey yeah, you’re right, I don’t think I have seen that before either. Hey Mindy, come look at this.” All three stood watching as if they had seen a UFO. “I’ll call the league office and check it out,” Mindy said. “Yeah, good idea,” replied Keith.

The phone rang at the league office, but there was no answer. That was typical on a weekend, especially during the playoffs. Everyone was either watching at home, at the game or at some league-sponsored party. When the answering machine picked up, Mindy left the following message: “Hi, this is Mindy at DTN, and we were watching the second half of today’s live game feed, and we were wondering why there appeared to be time-code on the raw feed. Just wondering and maybe you can help us out and explain. Thanks.”
The call came in the next day to Mindy from Bobby Blackmon. “Hi Mindy, sorry I missed your call, what can I do for you?” “Well, Bobby; Rich, Keith and I were watching the live feed from yesterday’s playoff game, and we were wondering why there seemed to be time-code data on the raw feed. Can you explain that?” “Well, yes Mindy, it is very simple really; you see, the game feed goes to the Hall and then out to you, so it is coded before you see it.” “Oh, so we don’t really have the exact raw feed from the stadium, it is post, so, like the play already happened?” Molly quizzed. “Yes, that is exactly right, anything else?” “No, I guess not, thank you, Bobby.” Mindy relayed the answer from Bobby to Rich and Keith. None of them seemed too worried, nor at the time did any implications regarding Bobby’s explanation come to mind.

David Grant is a former NCAA official and currently resides in southern California. He is the site's NFL Briefs writer.

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