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February 21, 2019

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Brent Musburger calls CBS Sports boss’ line against Super Bowl gambling talk ‘ridiculous’ and ‘stupid’

Brent Musburger

Isaac Brekken / The New York Times

Brent Musburger tapes a show at the Vegas Stats & Information Network studio, at the South Point in Las Vegas on Aug. 11, 2017.

The Patriots are 2 1/2-point favorites against the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.

See? That wasn't very hard, was it?

Yet you apparently won't hear about that from Jim Nantz, Tony Romo or anyone else on CBS' broadcast of the game.

"Our policy has been ... we don't discuss gambling information," CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said Wednesday. "We just, we don't do that."

Addressed or not during the telecast, betting always has been part of what fuels the historically high TV ratings for the Super Bowl, which drive the astronomical ad rates the telecast commands.

The gaming industry's lobbying group annually estimates more than $4 billion is wagered on the Super Bowl in one way or another, mostly away from legal sports books despite some states recently introducing legalized sports gambling.

But CBS' telecast will steer clear of talk about the point spread, the money line and the over-under line on total points.

There will be no discussion of proposition bets available on everything from the coin toss and how long it takes Gladys Knight to sing the national anthem to whether there will a roughing-the-passer penalty called.

There are only two lines CBS Sports cares about, however.

One, naturally, is the bottom line, which discourages rocking the boat with its multibillion-dollar partner, the NFL, which traditionally has been antsy about its symbiotic relationship with the gambling industry.

The other is the company line, which dictates no gambling talk during football telecasts no matter how many viewers may be betting on the game.

"(Viewers) can do whatever they want to do," said McManus, son of late sportscasting great Jim McKay. "I think there are a lot of people who are probably gambling on the game and a lot of people who aren't gambling on the game, also. What people are doing is not going to dictate what our policy is."

I had asked McManus about the network's position against acknowledging betting lines on its Super Bowl broadcast because CBS alumnus Brent Musburger last week on Chicago radio slammed his old network for its "holier-than-thou" stance.

"It's ridiculous," Musburger told Dan McNeil and Danny Parkins on WSCR-AM 670. "I mean, of course they should refer to it. ... All you have to do is give the point spread and say that somebody's favored by a field goal or a touchdown, and they're expecting a game (with total points) in the 50s or the 60s and basically you've covered it."

Musburger is star of the Vegas Sports Information Network (or VSiN) multiplatform gambling news and talk operation. So making gambling talk more mainstream is in his interest.

But he's also the radio voice of the Oakland Raiders, whose scheduled 2020 move to Las Vegas -- with the NFL's endorsement -- has suggested the league is acquiescing in regard to the gambling industry.

Doubling down on the seeming detente, the league earlier this month announced a multiyear sponsorship deal crowning Caesars Entertainment its official casino sponsor. Seven NFL teams, including the Bears, already had similar arrangements with Caesars.

The league specified these deals do not include sports betting or daily fantasy play, but Caesars now has the exclusive right to use NFL trademarks in promoting its casino properties in the United States and United Kingdom. Caesars also now can exploit promotional opportunities at events such as the Super Bowl and NFL draft.

"We couldn't be more excited to work with one of the world's largest gaming and entertainment companies," said Renie Anderson, the NFL's senior vice president of partnerships, sponsorship and consumer products.

Not exactly the old "enemy of the state" rhetoric.

Yet the old battle lines have yet to be redrawn at CBS.

"I've said all along (gambling talk) is not the most important thing, but to stick your head in the sand like CBS is doing is just absolutely ridiculous," Musburger said, ripping the resulting "white-bread broadcasts, which is what CBS tries to come up with in these situations."

NBC's Al Michaels famously has a penchant for playfully alluding to the over-under line or point spread late in "Sunday Night Football" telecasts and, Musburger pointed out, "the republic hasn't fallen."

Most announcers, though, rarely go further than referring to teams as an underdog or favorite.

Favored by whom, they tend not to say.

"Don't give that holier-than-thou attitude," Musburger said of CBS,

Thanks to legalized sports wagering in New Jersey, he noted, "You can walk to a Giants or Jets game after making a bet across the parking lot."

New Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said legal sports betting in Illinois is "an important thing to consider," further signaling the old taboos are crumbling.

"You've got to be a big boy. That's all it is," Musburger said. "Not everybody should be gambling. I got it. ... We've got trouble (with) drunks in this country, too, but we don't outlaw liquor anymore. We're smarter than that. ... I just think saying something like (there will be no gambling references during the Super Bowl telecast) is stupid."

McManus said he is open to perhaps a revision of CBS' policy in the offseason and beyond.

Alas, it won't happen before the Super Bowl LIII Most Valuable Player award is handed out, with money changing hands on a prop bet over whom the MVP will thank first.

"If we think it makes sense to change the policy, we will, and we evaluate it fairly often, so nothing is set in stone," McManus said. "But right now the policy is firm."

Don't bet against change.