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Behind the lines

Big Ten crew under cloud of suspicion

December 20, 2007|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

Although there has not been any evidence linking Big Ten Conference referee Stephen Pamon to gambling on games, Las Vegas oddsmakers are leery of game-fixing at the college football level.

Two games from the 2007 regular season have come into question regarding Pamon, an officiating crew chief with a history of bankruptcy and gambling: Penn State's victory over Purdue on Nov. 3 and Illinois' upset win over Ohio State on Nov. 10.

"Both games had disproportionate money bet on the teams that benefited from the objectionable calls in those games in Penn State and Illinois," said RJ Bell of Pregame.com.

"On average, 70% of teams end games within one touchdown of the Las Vegas spread," Bell said. "Which means that a single corrupt call that results in one touchdown -- or a touchdown denied to an opponent -- would allow a gambler to win 70% of his bets."

It will be interesting to see the fallout regarding Pamon, whose officiating crew made several questionable calls in both games.

The 32-game bowl season will start tonight with the Poinsettia Bowl, featuring Utah (8-4) against Navy (8-4) at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium.

On Dec. 3, the Utes opened as 9 1/2 -point favorites on the Las Vegas Hilton sports book, but that line has slowly dropped to eight points.

Money has flowed in Navy's direction ever since coach Paul Johnson left for Georgia Tech and was replaced by Ken Niumatalolo earlier this month. According to theSpread.com's betting chart, the Midshipmen had received 63% of the bets against the point spread as of Wednesday afternoon.

Navy, one of nine teams playing in a bowl game that will have a coaching change next season, has won four games in a row behind a high-scoring option running attack. Led by quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, the Midshipmen averaged 39.9 points and 351.5 rushing yards during the regular season and outscored their final five opponents, 245-192.

But Navy has a shaky history when it comes to covering the line. The Midshipmen were 4-7 against the spread this season and are 2-7 against the spread in their last nine nonconference games.

With six consecutive postseason victories, Utah has the nation's second-longest active bowl winning streak and has covered the spread in five bowl games in a row. The Utes, 7-5 against the spread, are also 7-1 in their last eight games overall and have covered the last four times they've played as favorites.

Pro football

At first glance, tonight's NFL game between Pittsburgh and St. Louis looks very lopsided in favor of the Steelers.

Pittsburgh sits on top of the AFC North with a 9-5 record and is listed as a 7 1/2 -point road favorite over St. Louis, the NFC West's last-place team with a 3-11 record.

But the Steelers have been anything but a lock for bettors lately.

Pittsburgh is 7-7 against the spread, including a weak 2-4 record on the road. The Steelers also have failed to cover the line in five of their last six games overall and are 1-4 against the spread in their last five games as a favorite.

Note: St. Louis is 0-7 against the spread in its last seven games against a team with a winning record.

lonnie.white@latimes.com

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