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NBA SCANDAL WILL AFFECT MANY SPORTS

Every official may be questioned by fans when making critical calls in close games.

NBA commissioner David Stern called the officiating scandal rocking his league an isolated act by a rogue criminal, but all officials will bear the stain.

Tim Donaghy is the target of a FBI investigation for allegedly betting on games, including some he officiated, during the past two seasons. And can't you hear the jeers any time an official makes a critical call in a close game: "Hey ref, you got money on the game?"

And not just NBA officials.

All officials.

Jim Evans, a former major-league umpire who called four World Series during a 28-year career, said Donaghy's deceit goes against the principles upon which officiating is based.

"The referee scandal makes me nauseous," Evans said in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times.

"All officiating is based on integrity and honesty and any hint of impropriety is damaging to officials in all sports, professional and amateurs alike.

"The problem becomes one of perception. All our decisions affect the outcome of games, but to think that an umpire or an official had a vested interest in the outcome is repulsive. ...Unimpeachable honesty is mandatory in this profession."

Major League Baseball, Evans said, went to great lengths to make sure umpires were aware of the potential pitfalls and to remind them of their "awesome responsibility" to uphold the integrity of the game. Umpires even heard guest speakers with criminal backgrounds.

"Occasionally, the head of security would bring in former mob figures or ex-cons who would explain how the mob or gamblers might try to get to us," Evans said. "They showed us videos portraying the modus operandi of big-time gamblers and the mob. Players, club officials, trainers, umpires ... everyone is a potential target. Those sessions certainly made a lasting impression on me."

The NFL's head of officiating, Mike Pereira, was not available for comment, but the league has a system of checks and balances to track the performances of its officials.

The NFL grades every official on every play of every game. All officials undergo background checks coming into the league and every three to four years thereafter, according to league spokesman Michael Signora. Also, NFL Security maintains contacts in the gambling and law enforcement communities to know what's going on.

Of course, the NBA took similar precautions.

"I feel sorry for the NBA officials next year, because everything they do it going to be scrutinized and everything they do is not going to be believed," said Marty Springstead, an MLB umpire supervisor who lives in Sarasota. "It's so subjective. None of us like it, because it puts everybody under the gun. That just tightens the bolts on all officials."

All sports likely will review their policies regarding officials and gambling, looking for cracks. Former MLB umpire Evans sees that as the possible silver lining to an embarrassing episode.

"I am sure the fallout from this will be a wake-up call for all sports at the professional and college level," said Evans, who runs the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring, an MLB-sanctioned umpiring school in Kissimmee. "I think that will probably be the greatest redeeming factor in the whole situation."

Joanne Korth can be reached at korth@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8810. Dave Scheiber can be reached at scheiber@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8541.

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