Sports Betting Transparency: NHL Ref’s Hot Mic Moment is a Bad Look

Jay Dieffenbach

Referee Tim Peel set back the NHL a couple of decades with one damaging quote.

Following a questionable tripping call he made against the Nashville Predators, Peel was heard on a live mic saying:

"it wasn't much, but I wanted to get a f—ing penalty against Nashville early."

The bosses heard it, loud and clear, and Peel will never work in the NHL again.

NHL senior executive VP of hockey operations Colin Campbell said Wednesday morning that Peel would "no longer be working NHL games now or in the future."

Peel, 53 and set to retire after this season, has been an on-ice official for the NHL since October 1999 and had 1,334 games under his belt entering this season.

This has to qualify as a provable low point in his less-than-stellar career:

Warning: Colorful language.

The perception of impropriety deeply damages the sport’s reputation, especially in light of the sports-betting expansion over the past two years. Any event threatening the transparency of legal wagering could cost big money.

The NBA had its “Tim Donaghy problem” in 2007, when the NBA referee was alleged to have made wagers on NBA games in which he officiated. The league labored to make things right in the wake of that debacle.

And now the NHL must find the right way to move forward, with sports betting firmly in the “read between the lines” portion of the league’s statement.

"Nothing is more important than ensuring the integrity of our game," Campbell said. "Tim Peel's conduct is in direct contradiction to the adherence to that cornerstone principle that we demand of our officials and that our fans, players, coaches and all those associated with our game expect and deserve.”

“There is no justification for his comments, no matter the context or his intention, and the National Hockey League will take any and all steps necessary to protect the integrity of our game."

This is less surprising because of Peel’s rather limited talent.

From Deadspin:

Peel has been one of the bigger clods reffing NHL games for years. He has routinely missed out on playoff assignments because of his bone-headed handling of games during the regular season. He also got himself suspended for going drinking with a blogger (at the time), Greg Wyshynski (now an ESPN reporter), six years ago. By any normal standard, the league would have Jazzy Jeff’d him off their referee roster years ago due to his poor performance that hasn’t resulted in grades high enough to work the playoffs.

At 4:56 into the second period, the Predators’ Viktor Arvidsson was called for tripping Detroit Red Wings defenseman Jon Merrill, who pretty clearly flopped in an effort to draw a penalty.

Peel obliged, blowing the whistle from a good distance away.

A few minutes later, the Nashville broadcast played the audio from Peel, who, according to what the NHL told ESPN after the game, now has his comments under an open investigation.

The NBA and Sports Betting Transparency

The National Basketball Association investigation concluded that Donaghy did not fix games, but suspicions remained.

Responding in February 2019 to an ESPN story that, according to the NBA took some liberties in translating the league’s Donaghy investigations and conclusions, the league said, in part, the “investigation found no basis to disagree with the finding of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office” and that there is “no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct."

When the US Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law that had forbidden states from legalizing sports gambling within their borders, the revenue streams became major rivers in the legal-wagering universe.

The NBA has embraced legalized sports betting more than any other US pro sports league. In 2018, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced a multiyear deal for MGM Resorts to be the "official gaming partner of the NBA."

Do we need more than ‘it is what it is’?

In a story at actionnetwork.com, the NHL’s situation is further explained:

Make-up calls have always been an unspoken part of sports. However, actually hearing it is saying the quiet part out loud. With legal sports betting expanding, leagues have to be proactive about handling such matters.

A study by the website FiveThiryEight.com in 2015 showed hockey referees have a tendency to be influenced by prior calls, meaning officials tend to even things out when penalties are one-sided.

Nashville won the game 2-0. Both teams were called for three penalties, and the Predators took a fourth for putting the puck over the glass in the third period.

Nashville coach John Hynes tried not to react strongly when asked about Peel’s misstep.

"I think the situation is what it is," he said. "I think from our perspective, it probably doesn't matter how I feel about it in general, but the referees are employees of the league, and rather than me comment, I think it's an issue that the league will have to take care of.”

"You always want to have things that are fair for your players and for your team" but that there are no excuses. "We have to find a way to kill the penalty and control what we can control."

Arguments are sure to come from both sides of the legalizing-sports-betting subject.

Proponents have argued that regulation leads to transparency, which controls concerns about game-fixing.

But in an ESPN story, economist Wladimir Andreff of the University of Paris is quoted: "All economic analyses conclude that the more money there is inflowing to sport, the greater the sport corruption."

Clearly, the world’s sports leaders have only begun addressing the issues.

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