This accusation is made at a time when legal sports gambling has been growing rapidly and just a week before Super Bowl.
The claims centering on the Miami Dolphins (and the Cleveland Browns) allege that the teams wanted their coaches not to throw games to increase their chances of getting top prospects in the NFL Draft. According to five lawyers who spoke to Reuters, the possibility of such actions could engulf the league and lead to lawsuits from gamblers as well as civil and criminal investigations.
Experts said that if the claims are true, owners of teams could be banned temporarily or even removed from their franchises.
They stated that evidence will be crucial, and could include corroborating testimony from assistant coaches or players as well as text messages, emails, or texts.
"Does anyone have a smoke gun stating that X will pay Y dollars if Z is lost?" John Holden, an Oklahoma State University professor who specializes on legal issues in sports law, said:
According to an insider, the NFL will investigate allegations made by two former head coaches.
Brian Flores was fired by the Miami Dolphins last month despite leading them in winning records in the past two seasons. He claimed in a lawsuit that Stephen Ross offered him $100,000 per loss in 2019 in order to help the team secure a better draft pick in 2020.
Hue Jackson claimed that he was given incentives to lose during his tenure as the Cleveland Browns' head coach from 2016-18 when the team lost 36 out of 40 games. The NFL draft of college athletes awards the lowest-scoring teams the highest picks.
Ross called the allegations false, malicious and defamatory. The Dolphins denied any claims that they did not act with integrity. Ross said that he was open to a league investigation.
According to the Browns, anyone who claimed that they were incentivized or paid to lose deliberately is false.
GROWTH IN SPORTS BETTING
The potential dangers of the allegations are compounded by the rapid growth in sports gambling in America since the 2018 Supreme Court ruling that dramatically increased the business.
To get a share of the lucrative market, sports leagues have partnered with gambling companies. The NFL is the most popular sport.
Legal experts say that gamblers could bring class action suits against the league and teams seeking hundreds of millions of dollars.
Fantasy sports contestants sued Major League Baseball, Houston Astros, and Boston Red Sox after it was revealed that the teams stole catchers' pitch signs between 2017-2018.
The judge ruled that the contestants were not sufficiently close to cheating and dismissed the case.
Marc Edelman, a Baruch College professor who specializes on sports law, said that if an owner paid for a coach to lose, this would create a stronger class action than one against the Houston Astros.
Flores stated that he refused to accept cash for games. However, legal risks still exist.
Holden says that prosecutors could prove that there was a conspiracy or scheme to influence the outcome if they can prove it. This law was used to bring bribery cases against officials at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, Salt Lake City, Utah.
If they suspect that the owners have damaged the game or infringed on a state gambling law, officials from states with regulated sports betting might also investigate.
Paul Haagen, a professor of sports law at Duke University School of Law, stated that if incentives are offered, it will depend upon how they are used.
There are very few legal issues if the coach was being paid for not fielding the best possible team because the owner wanted to test out potential inexperienced players.
Haagen stated, "If it takes form of incenting he to lose," and that the commissioner should take action to remove the franchise.