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From College To The Pentagon, Football's Controversial Week


Time now for sports.


MARTIN: There was a big college football game last night. Did you see it? Alabama beat LSU 30-16 in the annual SEC West rivalry game. Mike Pesca, he's the host of Slate's The Gist podcast, joins me now to talk about this and so much more. Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: So much more, hello.

MARTIN: So much, so much.


MARTIN: Raising expectations. OK, what happened last night? Why was it interesting?

PESCA: Well, there was so - there was so much more. First of all, this was a much-hyped game - two top-five teams, and Alabama absolutely decimated LSU. This happens. What usually doesn't happen is that five undefeated teams going into the weekend lose - Toledo, TCU - that was a big upset - Memphis, Michigan State against Nebraska with a hinky call at the end of the game and, as I mentioned, LSU. So college football always goes through this thing where they say, I don't know. We got all these undefeated teams. Who's going to be able to make the playoffs? Then a bunch of them lose. I guess you could say the playoff picture is becoming clear. It really matters what the four top teams are. Those are the teams that will get to play in the postseason.

MARTIN: There was baggage hanging over this game, though. Tell us about LSU running back Leonard Fournette.

PESCA: Fournette's so good, he could be in the pros tomorrow - but for the rules do not allow him to do that. So he has to play for free in college. I don't know if it's a scandal. It's just a - it's a thing. It's a - it's a condition of the college football.

MARTIN: (Laughter) It's a question mark.

PESCA: Yeah, I know. It's a condition of college football. The pros have also agreed to it. And also, I mean, these are great games. I don't want to take away from the games, but a serious issue was raised by Missouri players. The Missouri team, they didn't play last week. They say - a number of African-American players on the team say they will not be playing anymore until the president of the university resigns or is removed because there was a series of racial incidents on campus. So we'll be watching that.

MARTIN: Wow, OK. We're going to stay in the realm of controversy but move to the NFL. What's your take on this recent fantasy football insider trading scandal? We've talked about fantasy football before. Remind us what happened in this thing and why it matters.

PESCA: Right. Well, first of all, I want to disclose - as I did the last time we talked - that I accept ads for - I have a podcast called The Gist. And every - it seems like every broadcaster takes ads for these things. Except a couple weeks ago, I stopped taking the ads because it just seemed questionable and dirty. And let me set out the facts. One employee of the big site - not FanDuel...

MARTIN: Kings.

PESCA: Yeah, thank you. DraftKings. Oh, my God. You know, when they give a billion...

MARTIN: Live radio, baby, live radio.

PESCA: Yeah, when they give a billion advertisements, sometimes it just creates blindness.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

PESCA: Yes, so DraftKings bet on the rival site, and he kind of used insider information. So that's why this is called insider trading.


PESCA: Employees are not allowed to wager on their own site. But he had information that the general public didn't. And it just leads to a lot of question marks. There are congressional investigations. And the attorney general of New York is looking into this. So they've redone the rules. They say even employees of DraftKings can't bet on FanDuel. And FanDuel can't bet on DraftKings. But it is true that an extremely small percent - something like 1.3 percent of the players - finished in the green in three months that Sports Business Journal looked at these businesses. I do think there are a lot of questions to answer.

MARTIN: Yeah, we will keep watching. But briefly now, one more controversy that came to light this past week. The Pentagon apparently paid certain NFL teams a whole lot of cash - money - in exchange for patriotic displays at games.

PESCA: Yes, the two senators from Arizona, Flake and McCain, were very livid about this. And I think the public was quite shocked. There are all these honor-the-troops and flyovers during games. Well, this was paid for. It's called paid-for patriotism. And the Army knows it's good advertising. Heck, the Army pays $200 million to McCann-Erickson, their ad agency. But this was sort of not exactly disclosed. And fans at the game couldn't know that they were being advertised to, so the NFL's decided to give that money back.


PESCA: All the patriotism will be earned from now on.

MARTIN: Yeah. Mike Pesca, his podcast is called The Gist. Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.