The world of sports betting is exciting, fast-paced, and at times, a little shady.
In today’s interconnected world it’s much more difficult to cheat the system, but before the days of email and camera phones it was a bit more like the Wild West. Rogue actors, including some notorious gangsters, found that manipulating sports betting outcomes was a good way to make a few (or more than a few) extra dollars.
In this article, I’ll lay out five of the most interesting betting scandals I could find from the last 100 years.
1 – CCNY Point Shaving
You have to go back quite a few decades for this one. In fact, you need to go back far enough where a team won the NCAA Tournament AND the NIT in the same season. That year was the 1950.
The City College of New York, who despite having no relevance today was a very good program in those days, was involved in a point-shaving scandal that ultimately ruined the program forever.
In 1951, news began to surface when players who attended Manhattan College, along with a few others, were hit with charges involving both bribery and conspiracy. These charges were associated with college basketball betting during the 1949-50 season.
Later on as the NYPD conducted a more thorough investigation, and three CCNY players were arrested on charges of bribery in 1951. That was just the beginning.
The ramifications from this particular mess were long-lasting and harsh. Kentucky was forced to cancel the 1952-53 campaign, CCNY relegated basketball to a Division 3 sport (as it is today) and Long Island decided to stop all athletics for years, not returning to Division 1 until the 80s.
This scandal serves as an example that college kids really will do anything for a dollar.
2 – Holy Toledo
When you think big time college sports, you don’t normally think of the Toledo Rockets. However, in the early 2000s, they rose to the forefront of the conversation surrounding college football gambling and its impact on college athletics.
Three football players were allegedly involved in a scheme around 2003 in which key players were told to make mistakes intentionally to help bettors cash in. The Rockets running back at the time, Quinton Broussard, raked in around $2,000 from a Detroit gambler in exchange for fumbling a ball. Two other football players admitted altering their performance in certain games as well.
In addition to the football program, the Toledo basketball program found itself in hot water. Four former basketball players plead guilty to charges involving point shaving a game fixing.
In the end, the athletes were all given probation by the court, while the man who set the whole thing up, Garry Manni, was sentenced to six years behind bars.
3 – Northwestern Bribes
When you think of prestigious Midwestern colleges, Northwestern is certainly one to throw in the conversation. Unfortunately, when you talk about the most notable college basketball betting scandals, it also makes the cut.
During the 1994-95 season, two Northwestern basketball players – both seniors and starters – took money from a sports gambler in exchange for fixing some conference games early in 1995. The bribe required the players to do everything in their power to ensure that the team would lose by more than the point spread in each of three games determined by the bettor.
The basketball scandal would be the star of the show, but the illegal gambling scheme extended beyond the court to the football field as well. The US Attorney’s office brought down charges on two separate illegal gambling cases which involved five people. To make matters worse, one of those people accused of facilitating the illegal gambling ring was a former football player at the university.
The scandal had a ripple effect throughout the school’s athletic department and would lead to a number of self-imposed sanctions, including firings and suspensions, for years to come.
4 – Boston College Basketball
If you had to choose which college sports betting scandal was the worst of all time, it’s likely that Boston College’s infamous point-shaving scandal of 1978-79 would be the one.
During the 1978 basketball season, three Golden Eagles players were contacted by Henry Hill who was involved with organized crime at the time. The first game of the fix was supposed to be a close win against Providence (the Eagles were a five-point favorite) but Boston College ending up winning big. This cost Hill serious money – and things were just getting started.
In the following days, Hill and his associates in the illegal gambling ring contacted other players on the team leading up to a matchup with Harvard. They bet on Harvard +12, and the Boston College players delivered with a three-point win – leaving plenty of room to cover the spread.
Their game-fixing plan continued on for six more games, but ultimately the results were nowhere near as reliable as the gamblers needed them to be in order to keep the operation running. The point-shaving game was up, but that was just the beginning for everyone involved.
Hill was arrested in New York for drug trafficking, and upon a thorough investigation it was discovered he had made several trips to Boston in recent years. He eventually copped to fixing (or attempting to fix) games and gave the names of the players involved.
In the end, several players, as well as those in the organized crime ring, were sentenced to various amounts of prison time ranging from 10 years to 28 months. The story still serves as a cautionary tale for anyone thinking about getting into the point-shaving business today.
5 – The Green Wave
If there’s a consistent theme throughout all of these historic sports scandals, it’s that they often happen where they’d be least expected. The trend continues with Tulane’s basketball team during the 1985 season.
Sitting at 10-8 for the season, the team was enjoying a mediocre, if not decent, season by their standards. However, some of the players’ friends on campus had an idea to turn things up a notch via the sportsbook. Student Gary Kranz contacted Tulane’s forward Clyde Eads and told him that he needed the team to win by fewer than 10 ½ points in their upcoming game against Southern Mississippi.
Thinking that it was no big deal (hey, they were still going to win the game), Eads obliged. Actually – he did more than just take it upon himself to complete the task. He enlisted the help of several other players. Things worked out – they won, allowed Southern Miss to cover the spread, and each pocketed several hundred dollars.
The next attempt at a fix came two weeks later at Virginia Tech, but they were not able to pull it off. In the next attempt, against Memphis State, some unusual plays were made including a foul that seemed intentional even though basic strategy would have suggested it was an ill-advised play – this set the wheels in motion that something might amiss.
Eventually, rumors began to run throughout the student body, administration, and eventually led to a media investigation that resulted in several players being implicated in the scandal. In the immediate aftermath, it was the first gambling scandal that resulted in shutting down a Division 1 program.
Sports gambling scandals are proof that any time there is money at stake – someone will try to cheat to get it. Unfortunately, some (supposedly) innocent student-athletes got caught up in the mess.
Perhaps this will someday lead to a larger discussion about compensation for college athletes. With that said, I wouldn’t bet on it.