The end of the college basketball season is upon us. Before I get into handicapping the Final Four, I wanted to share a few thoughts about some issues that concern wagering on events such as the

NCAA

Basketball Tournament.

You see, if some of the pinstriped hypocrites in

Congress

have their way, this season may mark the end of legal wagering on college basketball in the state of Nevada. At the behest of the NCAA, the

Senate

has been holding high-profile hearings this week on a bill that would make it illegal to bet on college and high school sports. Of course, in 49 states it is already against the law to wager on college and high school sports. We all know how well that ban works.

In Nevada, there has never been wagering on high school sports, so that red herring can be drowned right here. Thus, the bill seeks to prevent one state, which investigates, licenses and heavily regulates sports books, from accepting wagers on college sports.

The bill should be called the "Illegal Bookmakers and Mafioso Relief Act," because the only thing this bill will accomplish if passed is to drive sports wagering underground to illegal bookmakers. No longer will licensed and regulated sports book operators be able to pick up the phone and notify law enforcement authorities that there was a lot of unusual betting activity taking place, as they did on

Arizona State

basketball games during the 1993-1994 season. The phone call resulted in an investigation of, and ultimately the conviction of, Arizona State basketball players and others for shaving points. Somehow, I just don't see Tony the Bookie picking up a phone and calling the

FBI

to let the agency know that there is unusual betting activity on a college basketball game.

Aside from the illegal bookmakers and organized crime, the chief "beneficiary" under the bill will be the NCAA, which will not have to worry about having to deal with point-shaving scandals, not because they will not happen, but because the only reliable mechanism for rooting out the point-shaving will have been eliminated.

Instead, as has been true for more than 50 years, point-shaving scandals occasionally will occur, gambling on college campuses will continue, and point spreads will be set and disseminated on college football and basketball games, whether that dissemination is through newspapers or over the Internet.

Rather than trying to eliminate legal wagering on college sports in the state of Nevada, where you must be at least 21 to make a wager, the NCAA should use some of the $6 billion they will be getting for the television rights to the NCAA tournament to try to control underage illegal wagering on college campuses, or, God forbid, let the players who generate all that revenue for the NCAA share in some of the wealth.

OK, that's it for the moralizing. Let's look at this weekend's matchups.

Michigan State

is an 8 1/2-point favorite over

Wisconsin

and

Florida

is a 4 1/2-point favorite over

North Carolina

. Based on power ratings of the teams, the lines are basically correct. I have Michigan State at 95, Wisconsin at 88, Florida at 92 and North Carolina at 87.

In games played after the first round of this year's tournament, underdogs are 19-7 against the spread (ATS hereafter). Historically, in the semifinals, underdogs perform better than favorites. Since 1983, underdogs are 19-15 ATS. In the finals, underdogs are 10-7 ATS. In the last five years, underdogs are 6-4 ATS in the semifinals and 3-2 ATS in the finals.

One respected sports-wagering publication ran a computer simulation of a million games based on the semifinal brackets. The results were as follows - number of times won: Michigan State: 482,607, Florida: 299,942, Wisconsin: 118,818, North Carolina: 98,633.

We are going to go with the trend and take both underdogs with the points, with a slightly larger bet on Wisconsin + 8 1/2 because, based on our power ratings, the spread should be only 7. We believe the public will be betting on Florida, and although we think the

Gators

will win the game straight up, we will look to take 5 or more points with the

Tar Heels

. On Monday night, you can utilize the power rating to figure out our projected line. We have a feeling we will be on the underdog in that game as well.

Side dish

Which best characterizes your feeling on the bill to make college sports wagering illegal in the state of Nevada?

a. I fully support the bill and believe it will help eliminate wagering on college sports.

b. Don't those morons in Congress have anything better to do?

c. I think it is an attempt by the NCAA to avoid embarrassment by making sure point-shaving incidents do not become public matters.

d. I am a civil libertarian. Live and let live, as long as it doesn't hurt anybody.