SEOUL, March 8 (Yonhap) -- The nation's top men's professional basketball league will play out the season despite the cloud of a match-fixing scandal involving an active coach, the league's commissioner said Friday.
Han Sun-kyo, head of the Korean Basketball League (KBL), convened an emergency board meeting Friday to discuss fallouts from the match-fixing allegations surrounding Kang Dong-hee, head coach of the Dongbu Promy.
Hours after the KBL meeting, prosecutors filed for an arrest warrant for Kang, who allegedly took cash from two gambling brokers on four occasions to fix games in 2011. Kang, the first active head coach of a South Korean pro sports team to come under fixing suspicions, has denied all charges. Prosecutors ended their 12-hour questioning of Kang in the wee hours of Friday morning.
Following the meeting, Han apologized for the trouble Kang and the league have caused the public.
"The investigation into coach Kang began yesterday and it may take a long time," Han noted. "We don't know who's telling the truth yet, but having seen him since his playing days, I believe Kang hasn't been involved in any fixing schemes."
Han rejected rumors that the KBL will cancel the rest of the season and the playoffs, saying, "We will continue on with the season as we normally would."
The KBL, which was founded in 1997, has 10 teams. Each team plays 54 regular season games, and through Thursday, teams have played 48 to 49 games. The top six teams reach the playoffs. Kang's Dongbu is tied for the sixth and last playoff spot with two other teams at 19-30.
Under the law governing sports promotion, Kang faces up to five years in prison or 50 million won (US$46,100) in fines if he's convicted. Han insisted the KBL will also hand out a stiff penalty if Kang is found guilty.
"We will have no choice but to issue a stern punishment if he's convicted," the commissioner said. "During our board meeting, a possibility of a lifetime ban was also discussed. But we will have to wait for the conclusion of prosecutors' investigation and for the final court ruling."
The KBL is the latest pro sports league to be rocked by a match fixing scandal. The top football league, then called the K-League, saw dozens of active and former players indicted or convicted for rigging charges in 2011. The league has since been renamed the K League Classic and it has also adopted a new logo in an effort to rebrand itself.
In 2012, the country's top volleyball and baseball leagues also went through match-fixing scandals, with implicated players drawing lifetime bans.
In light of these incidents, the government in early 2012 announced it would adopt a "zero-tolerance" policy for clubs and individual players in dealing with fixing scandals.
In earlier cases, players, active or retired, were found to have taken cash from brokers gambling on illegal betting Web sites.
These sites offer proposition bets, or "prop bets." They place odds on seemingly inconsequential plays, such as first-inning walks issued by a starting pitcher in baseball or the number of free throws made in the first quarter of a basketball game, often with no cap on the amount of wager. It's considered easier for gamblers to fix such minute plays.
The only legal form of sports betting in South Korea is through buying Sports Toto lottery tickets. Sports Toto offers odds on wins, ties, losses and the combined scores between teams. A bettor can only wager 100,000 won per ticket.
While volleyball and baseball leagues were reeling from rigging allegations, the KBL conducted its own investigation and said it found no evidence of similar cases in the hoops league.
An Jun-ho, the KBL's director of basketball operations, said the league will carry out another investigation into all teams.
"We've studied past instances from baseball, football and volleyball," An said. "We're not taking this matter lightly at all. But it's difficult to state our position clearly before the prosecution or the court reaches a formal conclusion. We will prepare specific measures as necessary."
Kang coached the Promy on Wednesday, a day before being interrogated by the prosecution. Sung In-wan, general manager of the Promy, said Kang isn't expected to coach the team in its next game on Saturday. Assistant coach Kim Young-man will take over on the bench, Sung added.
Kang served as Dongbu's assistant coach from 2005 to 2009, and became the team's head coach before the 2009-2010 season. The team has finished second in the league twice on Kang's watch. Last year, Dongbu established new KBL records for most wins in a season with 44, and most consecutive victories with 16.
He is also regarded as one of South Korea's greatest point guards, dating back to the late 1980s and the early 1990s, just before the launch of the professional league. Kang, dubbed "Wizard on the Court" for his spectacular play on both ends of the court, teamed up in the backcourt with Hur Jae, head coach of a KBL team KCC Egis nicknamed "Basketball President," to lead the semi-pro team Kia Motors to five straight national titles from 1989 to 1993.
Kang was the MVP in the inaugural KBL season in 1997 and led the league in assists four times.
All rights reserved by Yonhap News Agency