DAVID STERN CAN'T understand what would drive Tim Donaghy, a man making a six-figure income working his dream job, to risk it all by placing bets on basketball games.

I think I know the answer: Because Stern himself created such a great "investment" opportunity, it was too tempting to refuse.

Yes, the NBA's referee scandal can be traced back to a fundamental flaw in the way the league does business, a sink hole the league is advised to cover up before it sucks in another valued employee.

You see, as opposed to the NFL and Major League Baseball, the NBA shields its nightly referee assignments. We see now this serves no purpose other than to provide "inside information" to guys like Donaghy and no-lifers who hang around the refs' hotels on game days.

It has been reported the average number of points scored in a game reffed by Donaghy last season was 101/2 higher than the league average. If a gambler simply played the "over" in all games worked by Donaghy, he/she stood to make a huge profit.

Obviously, the quick-whistling Donaghy understood this. He knew exactly where he was running the floor on a given night. Apparently, he also went out of his way to find out where other refs with abnormal numbers were working as well.

This is one reason I don't believe Donaghy necessarily "fixed" any games. He didn't have to. The percentages themselves virtually guaranteed a handsome profit.

The same advantage would exist in major league baseball if not for the fact everyone knows who's going to be behind the plate in each game because it's done on rotation. So Las Vegas, in setting a line on a game, can factor in the bias of the ump.

Vegas would be able to do the same — and eliminate this entire "inside information" influence — if the NBA would simply announce its ref assignments each morning. It's a very simple solution to what Stern considers to be a very major problem.

Gambling — legal and otherwise — exists. It is hoped Mr. Stern, as did Pete Rozelle decades ago, has learned to deal with it.

DATELINE: Dotting the NBA map. I'm going to be shocked if at least a couple of Donaghy's colleagues don't lose their jobs in the aftermath of the so-called scandal.

First off, dealing with public perception — rather than the problem itself — is bound to be the way Stern dramatically responds to a vastly overblown incident.

But also, there almost has to be other guys involved, whether they realized it at the time or not.

Consider this hotel-to-hotel cell-phone conversation:

Tim: Hey, Leon, saw you on satellite last night. Took a lot of guts to eject Nelson. Congratulations.

Leon: Thanks, Tim.

Tim: Who you got tonight?

Leon: I'm in Sacramento. Lakers-Kings. How about you?

Tim: Heat-Cavaliers. Thanks. Have a good game.

Just like that, this mythical Leon has broken NBA rules requiring him to keep his assignment a secret. And sly ol' Tim has himself another nice betting proposition because his pal Leon is known to swallow his whistle (helping produce low-scoring games).

Here's hoping Leon — and the any number of other guys hoodwinked by Donaghy — don't lose their jobs, but rather learn a valuable lesson.

DATELINE: Inside a numbers game. Donaghy and his mob friends aren't the only ones who have profited from the scandal. Perhaps you've caught one of the many interviews on the matter done by "expert" RJ Bell of Pregame.com.

Bell cites all kinds of numbers that convict Donaghy of "fixing" games, but never bothers to identify a single game in which the ref's actions (a first-quarter ejection of a star player or late-game, point-spread-affecting call) support his numbers.

The fact is: Donaghy's guilty plea Wednesday never mentioned "point shaving" or "fixing" anything. Why? Because guys like Bell and every analyst the NBA could find have yet to come up with any evidence it occurred.

For now — and perhaps forever — let's chalk up Bell's analysis to: Numbers can say anything you want.

Has your trust of NBA refs changed in the aftermath of the Donaghy admissions? E-mail your thoughts (with full name and your city) to dave@angnewspapers.com.