Unacceptable For Bettors: Injury Transparency Has Gotten Worse For Leagues, Teams In Playoffs

Written By Mike Mazzeo on May 18, 2022

America’s major professional sports leagues have always claimed to care about integrity.

Yet, despite now taking billions in sportsbook partnership money, their teams continue to make a sham of injury transparency. And it seems like it’s only gotten worse during the postseason.

The Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns incurred combined fines of $75,000 by the NBA for violating league injury reporting rules regarding the statuses of stars Joel Embiid and Devin Booker.

Both players were listed as out on the official injury report, only to play for their teams in those playoff games. In Embiid’s case, just minutes after the release of the official injury report, NBA TV partner ESPN reported that he could actually be cleared to play. And he ultimately did, posting an 18-point, 11-rebound double-double in a 20-point blowout victory over the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Historically, listing a player as out on the official injury reports means they have zero chance to play. Which is why it made zero sense that both Embiid and Booker would be eligible to suit up in the first place. And if the average American sports bettor can’t even trust the official injury report of one of the country’s four major professional sports leagues, what’s the point? Going forward, if a player is ruled out on the official injury report, he should just be 100% out. No changes allowed.

“Even if they don’t bet, fans just want to know who’s in and who’s out,” one major American professional sports league official told PlayNY. “This shouldn’t be a guessing game.”

Professional leagues, teams benefiting from legal sports betting

For years, the NFL operated under the whole integrity facade when it came to sports betting. But then the coronavirus pandemic happened, and everything changed. The leagues were in desperate need of a new revenue stream. Legal sports betting started becoming more mainstream. As much as the term is understandably shunned in the responsible gaming community, this was essentially free money.

Last season, the NFL had partnerships with seven different sportsbooks and expected to generate $1 billion from them. In its latest earnings call, Madison Square Garden reported that online sports betting in New York represents its largest revenue category and marketing partnerships on a run rate basis.

Multiple industry sources told PlayNY that the general ballpark for a non-exclusive sportsbook partnership deal with an NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB team is around $5 million annually. An exclusive deal could run in the $10 million range or more. MSG’s non-exclusive deals with Caesars, BetMGM and DraftKings, though, include both the New York Rangers and New York Knicks, along with MSG Network. So they figure to be more financially lucrative for the Garden — especially given the aforementioned info above.

Sports betting becoming more mainstream, problematic at times

Sportsbook advertising has taken over TV screens during games. It can also be found in arenas and stadiums across the country, with an increasing number of retail sportsbook lounges entering the mix as legislation allows in different states. More favorable odds can be found on online sports betting apps at home games. Active professional athletes in the NHL and MLB have also been recently allowed to become sportsbook brand ambassadors.

Leagues can’t tolerate players betting on their own sport. Calvin Ridley recently received a one-year suspension for wagering on his own team, the Atlanta Falcons. They also can’t tolerate teams not trying their best to win games. Brian Flores’ lawsuit against the Miami Dolphins — which includes tanking allegations — is pending. And leagues shouldn’t tolerate issues with their equipment. MLB’s baseballs are under scrutiny yet again.

The Sixers were fined $50,000 for violating league injury reporting rules over the Embiid situation. But it was barely a slap on the wrist. The NBA docked Phoenix $25,000 for flubbing Booker’s status. And Memphis Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins remained ridiculously evasive when asked about Ja Morant’s injury status prior to Game 4 of the team’s semifinal series with the Golden State Warriors. Jenkins said Morant had an injury, but wouldn’t disclose what it was. He also said Morant had an MRI, but wouldn’t disclose the results.

Leagues should amend injury report requirements

In professional sports, jobs are always on the line. And for the most part, the only thing that matters is wins and losses. So it’s understandable that teams don’t want to divulge their entire strategies. But putting out accurate injury information to bettors in a timely fashion is the very least they can do.

NHL teams, for example, should no longer produce such vague injury updates as “upper-body” or “lower-body.” They shouldn’t put out their official lineups with just 15 minutes to go until face-off of a massive playoff game — as the Pittsburgh Penguins did before taking on the New York Rangers (Tristan Jarry and Sidney Crosby both played for the Pens) in Game 7 of the first round on Monday night. Maybe it can’t be multiple hours. But the NHL can do better.

“We have chosen not to change any of our Club disclosure requirements with regard to our sports betting relationships,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told PlayNY in October 2021. “And, at least at this point, no consideration has been given to changing those policies.”

Likewise, an NBA source told PlayNY at that time that there were no changes to lineup reveals as they pertain to NBA betting.

  • NHL: Starting lineups sometimes come 10-15 minutes before face-off
  • NBA: Starting lineups come 30 minutes before tip
  • NFL: Inactives listed 90 minutes before kickoff
  • MLB: Lineups are mostly posted 3-3.5 hours before first pitch

You want integrity? Pony up some transparency

The more teams keep close to the vest, the easier it is for nefarious activity to occur as that information becomes extremely valuable. Maybe highly compensated players can’t be bought. But lower-level staffers who make far less money might become more willing to divulge that info for additional payment.

“Integrity is the backbone of sports,” ex-New York Giant Amani Toomer, now a trustee at Entain Foundation US, told PlayNY. “And if people start thinking it’s (scripted like) WWE, it’s a problem.”

A fair amount of people were already questioning outcomes and the scripted nature of professional sports. And none of these sports betting scandals helps in that respect.

If they are going to take millions upon millions in sportsbook partnership money, America’s professional sports teams and leagues owe bettors actual transparency on injuries. Providing misinformation on their official injury reports is simply unacceptable — especially deep in postseason play.

After all, where is the integrity in that?

Photo by AP / Adam Hunger
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Mike Mazzeo

Mike Mazzeo is a contributing writer for PlayNY, reporting on legal sports betting in New York while covering the potential legalization of NY online casinos and poker. He previously wrote for ESPN, the New York Daily News and The Ringer, among others.

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