Unpaid players and millions of dollars riding on the outcome of the game…what could possibly go wrong!?
The unfortunate reality is that when high-rolling gamblers have access to young, broke college athletes, a scandal is bound to ensue (although, even esports gambling has proven to be vulnerable).
Over the years college sports has seen its share of bad behavior, but gambling scandals take things to a new level. In this article, I’ll go over some of the most nefarious, high-stakes, shady events that have taken place in what was supposed to be amateur athletics.
Northwestern Shaves Points
Northwestern is known for the intellectual prowess and academic achievements of its students…athletes included. However, during the 1994-1994 college basketball season, a couple players on the team made decisions that would later be characterized as a huge mistake.
After later being indicted and arrested for the scheme, more details emerged describing what exactly took place. Kenneth Dion Lee – a starting guard for the Wildcats, and Dewey Williams, the team’s center/forward combo, were approached by Brian Irving and Kevin Pendergast (who, for what it’s worth, were just a couple years their senior) after the two had placed bets for themselves and others.
Northwestern, not being a top program at the time, was the underdog in the games in question. Their task? Lose by a big enough margin that the favorite would easily cover the spread during three Big Ten games.
The next game was a different story. In a road contest against Michigan, Lee, the star of the previous game’s gambling successes, asked for more money. The only problem? They didn’t hold up their end of the deal and covered the 25.5-point spread, losing by only 17. Not only did Lee not get more money, but he got nothing at all.
Fast forward a few years to spring 1998 and things were looking much worse for everyone than just losing a bet. Federal prosecutors indicted the two players as well as the gamblers behind the whole scheme. The ordeal ended with short prison stints for all involved.
Northwestern’s point-shaving scandal was the talk of the 1990’s, but it wasn’t without precedent. In fact, Tulane’s college basketball betting scandal that took place during 1985 was even more concerning.
Here’s how the story began: late in the 1985 season, Tulane’s basketball team was sitting at a respectable 10-8 on the year. Before the last of a 5-game home stand, a Tulane undergrad student – Gary Kranz – got in touch with the team’s senior forward Clyde Eads. They weren’t the best of friends, but Kranz had previously provided drugs to Eads, so they weren’t complete strangers.
Kranz had intentions of making another deal – a big bet on the Green Wave’s upcoming game against Southern Miss. A 10.5-point favorite, Tulane was expected to win the game, but Kranz needed to enlist Eads help to keep the margin of victory below the spread.
Eads, knowing he wouldn’t be able to pull it off on his own, told a handful of other players about the scheme and eventually everyone was on board with the plan.
Surprisingly, everything went according to plan. Tulane was able to win the game outright, but only by a point. For their efforts, the players involved collected several hundred dollars each.
Because of the success the group had in fixing the Southern Mississippi game, they figured it was worth trying again. Unfortunately, their next attempt, which took place a couple weeks after the first in a game at Virginia Tech, was unsuccessful.
Not being deterred by the recent loss, they set their sights on an upcoming game against Memphis. The Tigers were one of the best teams in the country at the time, and came into New Orleans as a 7-point favorite.
As the game neared halftime, Tulane was in the lead – this is when things started becoming suspicious. John Williams, who was having a great game, committed a bizarre foul – his third of the game. Tulane went into halftime with a 34-28 lead.
The stars of the first half were nowhere to be found in the last 20 minutes of action. Tulane lost by 11, and the five players involved earned more than $13,500 total.
As tends to happen in these types of situations, word eventually got out and the punishment was severe. Though the players were never convicted, the basketball program was suspended following the season. Luckily, they got another chance at redemption in 1988 when students argued that they were being punished for something they had nothing to do with.
Tulane enjoyed some basketball success in the early 1990’s, but the scandal is still a black mark on the program even today.
The Toledo Rockets have rarely been recognized as a top athletics program in the nation. With that being said, they were the talk of college sports after a massive scandal came to light in the mid-2000s.
Both the basketball and football teams were involved in the shady business, as three players from the court and three from the gridiron were charged with conspiracy in regards to bribes made by two businessman from the Detroit area.
The court documents allege that between December 2004 and December 2006, money was paid to players (as little as $500 in some cases) by Ghazi Mani and Mitchell Karam, in order to fix the outcomes of games with both basketball and college football betting.
Rather than noticing a specific incident, a former backup running back, Adam Cuomo admitted to being the player who initially got involved in the scandal. He admitted to providing information to the businessmen making bets on the games. But that was just scratching the surface.
It was later revealed that Cuomo didn’t just provide information, but was able to convince other players to join in on the scandal. He admitted to taking several athletes to meet with Ghazi in Detroit.
The operation was brought down by wiretaps of Cuomo’s phone. After 133 calls between Cuomo and the alleged businessmen conspirators, it’s no surprise there was some damning information exchanged.
In the end, a number of indictments and charges were handed out across the board.
The OG – CCNY
The name “City College of New York” (CCNY) means nothing to sports fans today. However, to fans of sports gambling history, the name lives in infamy.
More than a half-century ago, in 1950, CCNY was at the top of the college basketball world, winning both the NIT and NCAA Championship. The interesting part of this particular scandal is that it involved not just CCNY, but six other schools in the area – including 33 players and members of well-known organized crime operations.
Kellogg then wore a wire and was approached in a bar – again being offered money in exchange for point-shaving. As the scandal became public, NYC District Attorney Frank Hogan was able to get enough information to arrest seven of those involved. Next, the police set up a sting operation which led to 32 players across seven colleges admitting to taking bribes in an astounding 86 games over a three-year period.
In the end, CCNY got the worst of it. Though other schools temporarily placed sanctions on their athletic departments, CCNY would essentially remove its name from the national conversation for good. Funding was cut for their programs, and they went down to Division III where they remain today.
Sports Betting Scandals Are an Unfortunate Reality
Although these sports scandal stories might make you cynical about the integrity of college betting, it’s important to recognize that the vast majority of competition is removed from the influence of gamblers.
Where there’s an easy dollar to be made, someone is always going to be looking to take advantage. At the end of the day, it’s all just part of the game.