An 18-month investigation of a youth football gambling operation in South Florida culminated in the arrest of nine men, all coaches and assistants from the league. "Operation Dirty Play," as the investigation was called, started with journalists from ESPN who videotaped parents exchanging money in the stands. According to investigators, larger sums of money were exchanged off the field, and as much as $100,000 was wagered on a youth football championship.
"It's about kids being exploited unfortunately by greedy parents and greedy grown-ups and coaches who were basically nothing more than criminals," Broward County sheriff Al Lamberti told the Associated Press.
The South Florida Youth Football League is comprised of 6,000 players between the pee-wee and teen levels. While authorities found no evidence that coaches rigged games or that players were aware of the bets, ESPN's "Outside the Lines" reports that players were recruited and their parents offered money to play on a certain team.
The investigation also highlights the lax background check standards for youth coaches; six of the coaches involved had extensive criminal backgrounds. The alleged ringleader and president of the Fort Lauderdale Hurricanes, Brandon Bivins (known to the community as 'Coach B') has a criminal history that includes convictions for cocaine possession, marijuana possession and grand theft auto. Moreover, the investigation uncovered that Bivins was also operating a gambling house out of a barbershop, taking wagers not just on youth games but professional and college games, as well.
"(Bivins has) been to Florida state prison. He's out and he's coaching youth football," Lt. Frank Ballante said.
When authorities were first notified of the investigation, Deerfield Beach City improved its screening process for youth coaches, but requirements vary among the cities in the youth league.