Rumors of Point Shaving Rack College Basketball

Article excerpt

A ball clanks off the back of the rim. An errant pass trickles out of bounds. A player commits a dumb foul.

For most college basketball teams, it's just a bad day on the court. But for some, a rash of mistakes may signal something more sinister - poi nt shaving.

"They make it sound very nice," said Arnie Wexler, a nationally recognized gambling expert. "They say, `We don't want you to lose the game. We don't want you to do anything bad. All we want is, the point spread is 10, and we want you to win by less than 10.' " Wexler said that as gambling on college campuses spirals out of control, more and more student athletes are placing bets. When they can't pay the money back, point shaving provides a way out. "We're a step away from a scandal," Wexler warns. Maybe closer than a step. Last week, the FBI said it was investigating allegations of point shaving in games involving the Arizona State University men's basketball team during the 1994 season. Also last week, the Fresno Bee reported in a copyrighted article that the Fresno State basketball team is being investigated for point shaving this season. Fresno State Coach Jerry Tarkanian denied that his players shaved points. And last year, an NCAA study that surveyed 648 students who played football or men's basketball athletes said that 25 percent gambled on sports, and that 4 percent gambled on the games they played. Three athletes admitted that they received money from a gambler for not playing well in a game. Point shaving is nothing new for college basketball. In fact, the practice of turning in a subpar performance to fix a game has been around as long as the set shot and thepick and roll. In the 1950s, huge point-shaving scandals ravaged the sport. More than 30 players from seven teams, including national powerhouses such as Kentucky and the City College of New York, were implicated in schemes to fix more than 80 games. In the early 1960s, another scandal blew up, this time involving 22 schools. It was followed by point-shaving schemes at Boston College in 1979 and Tulane in 1985. A similar debacle helped hasten the departure of Coach Jim Valvano from North Carolina State in 1990, seven years after the Wolfpack won the national championship. Suns center John "Hot Rod" Williams, who was on the Tulane team, admitted that he received money while playing for the Green Wave, but said he didn't shave points. "What it was was breaking NCAA rules," Williams said. "They tried to turn it over on me. Where'd you get a car from? Where'd you get a stereo? How'd you get this stuff? I told them: Ask Tulane. That's the bottom line." But Williams said point shaving did go on at Tulane. "They had guys on that team who did it, who admitted they did it," he said. "They were just using me as a scapegoat." Through all the scandals, players were rounded up, gamblers jailed and newspaper columnists harrumphed from coast to coast. But the insidious nature of point shaving and promises of big payoffs has kept the practice alive, lurking beneath the surface. Here's how it works: To handicap games, Las Vegas bookmakers predict which team will win and by how many points. Bettors who pick the underdog get to add those points to their team's final score. For example, if UCLA is favored by six over ASU, and UCLA wins 55-50, the bettors who picked ASU win their bets. To "shave" points, players purposely make mistakes to make sure their team doesn't score enough points to "cover" the spread. Conspirators in the know bet against the team and clean up. Basketball, with its fast pace, high-scoring and low number of players, has always been the easiest team sport to fix. "I think it probably is," said Bill Saum, an NCAA official assigned to police sports gambling, "because there are less individuals involved in the game, and nearly every individual on the floor at some point touches the ball. It's hard to figure out how an offensive tackle would throw a game in football. …