Point Shaving in Sports

According to a March 10, 1986 Sports Illustrated Article, Charles K. McNeil of Connecticut invented point spread betting in the 1940’s. This form of wagering uses a point handicap to create a 50/50 wagering proposition. For example: if the Knicks are -7.5 in a match, in order for bettors to win a Knicks point spread bet, the Knicks must win by 8 points or more. If they fail to cover the spread, or lose outright, their opponent is the winners for point spread betting purposes.

Starting in the late 1940s, point spreads became the primary way both basketball and football were bet in the United States. With it came a new (and perceived less harmful) method of match fixing called point shaving. This made it possible for teams to throw a match, and still win the game. In their eyes it was harmless. They were still playing to win the game; they were just attempting to win without covering the spread.

1951 CCNY Point Shaving Scandal

It did not take long for such scandals to become known. In 1951 a district attorney indicted college basketball players from CCNY, Manhattan College, New York University and Long Island University for point shaving. The most significant implication here involved second overall NBA draft pick Alex Groza. During his two seasons in the NBA he averaged 22.5 points per game and was Rookie of the Year in his first. He was among several players convicted. His, what could have been a hall of fame, NBA career was ended when he was given a lifetime ban for the cheating he did while in college.

1978-1979 Boston College Point Shaving

Have you ever watch the 1990 Martin Scorsese Goodfellas where Robert De Niro plays Jimmy Burke and Ray Loyota plays Henry Hill? This was based on a true story. While not covered in the movie, Henry and Jimmy were involved in point shaving. It was when Henry Hill was busted on drug charges and turned government informant that he gave up the full story of the 1978-1979 Boston College point shaving scandal.

1984-1985 Tulane Point Shaving Scandal

In April 1985 it was alleged four men’s basketball players from Tulane received cash and cocaine in order to assure the team did not cover the point spread in two games. This included star player John “Hot Rod” Williams who was believed to be a near certain first round pick in the upcoming NBA draft. It was alleged he received $900 the first time and $4,500 the second. Two of the players were given immunity in exchange for testimony against Williams and 3 non-athletes involved in the fix. In what should have been his rookie year in the NBA he was on trial. His first trial resulted in mistrial and in his second he was acquitted. Starting a couple years late, he did go on to have a successful NBA career.

1994-1995 Arizona State Point Shaving

In 1994 Las Vegas bookmakers became highly suspicious of large wagers against Arizona State University in NCAA hoops. This led to an investigation where it was found campus bookmaker Benny Silman had recruited members of the team to shave points. He was sentenced to 4 years in prison. Upon release, he visited American universities and warned of the dangers of gambling. His story was made into a TV movie Big Shot: Confessions of a Campus Bookie. He is played by David Krumholtz, who is best known for playing Charlie Eppes in the television series Numb3rs.

1994-1995 Northwestern University

Former Notre Dame kicker Kevin Pendergast was in serious gambling debt when he learned from a friend Northwestern point guard Kenneth Lee might be willing to shave points. Northwestern was coming off a 5-22 season, so the scheme here was to make sure they lost by more than the point spread. Other teammates were recruited. Irregular betting patterns in Reno, Nevada led to an FBI investigation. Those involved confessed. Pendergast served two months in prison as the ring leader while the players involved served a month.

2003-2006 University of Toledo

On May 6, 2009, a federal grand jury indicted three former basketball and three former football players from University of Toledo for involvement in point shaving from 2003-2006. This was result of Adam Cuomo, who was a Toledo football team running back from 1999-2003, making multiple $500 bribes between 2003-2006 to football and basketball players in attempts to influence games. The players involved confessed and pled guilty. For example: Quinton Broussard, a Toledo running back, confessed to accepting over $2,000 cumulative including $500 to fumble the ball in a 2005 bowl game. Sentencing of those indicted range from 6-30 months.

2008-2011 University of San Diego

On April 11, 2011, ten individuals including two University of San Diego players and a coach were indicted for involvement in a point shaving scheme that according to the FBI began in 2008 and lasted until at least March 2011. Steve Goria, Richard Garmo and Paul Thweni bribed the players in order to make bets in Las Vegas. They pled guilty and will serve up five years in prison each. The players allegedly involved include USD all time leading scorer Brandon Johnson, another player Brandon Dowdy, and former assistant coach T.J. Brown.

Other Point Shaving Scandals

This section has mentioned only point shaving scandals heavily covered by US media. It is quite reasonable to assume match fixing is not always detected and there have been far more fixed games in college sports than this article covers.