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Saturday, March 31, 2007
Another Instance of Point Shaving?

One benefit to professional athletes making substantial money is that the threat of players throwing games or shaving points at the behest of gamblers is diminished (even if not eliminated, see Rose, Pete). Gambling was a genuine threat to the integrity of professional sports in the early days of professional sport, particularly baseball, as Dean Roger Abrams describes in a forthcoming book called Dark Side of the Diamond.

But the risk remains in college sports, where players' genuine financial need, combined with access to gambling and gamblers, gives players an incentive to take money in exchange for poor performance. The latest example involves federal criminal charges filed last week against University of Toledo running back Harvey "Scooter" McDougle Jr. for participating in a bribery scheme to influence sporting events. Story here; some comments here. Scooter allegedly acted as go-between a gambler known as "Gary" and various Toledo football and basketball players, who took cash, cars, phones, and other gifts.

College basketball has had its share of point-shaving scandals: the 1948-49 Kentucky Wildcats, the 1950-51 CCNY team (that won both the NCAA and NIT championships), Boston College in the late 1970s, and the 1994 Arizona State Sun Devils. But there have been fewer examples of football players tanking in this way, probably because one (or even a few) players cannot alone affect the outcome of a game. The only example I recall off-hand (I say with the pride of an alumnus) involved former a Northwestern running back named Dennis Lundy, who deliberately fumbled on the one-yard-line in a 1994 game against Iowa to keep NU from covering the spread (he had a $ 400 bet on the game). Lundy was sentenced in 1999 to one month in prison for lying to a grand jury.

Scooter McDougle admits he accepted gifts from Gary, but insists it never changed the way he played to affect the outcome of games. That becomes the key fact the prosecution must prove. We shall see.


This is a very sad story. It's not just about the pressures uncompensated athletes feel to earn extra cash through illicit activities, but also about the psychology of a player suddenly out of the limelight. As I understand it, most of Scooter's contacts with "Gary" came during a year in which he sat out. The year prior, he had emerged as a key player and fan favorite. If the allegations are proven, I wonder if his role might have had something to do with wanting to still be a part of the "action."

I will add one thing to your story -- based on what I've read elsewhere, it's not clear that McDougle is alleged to have been involved in point shaving -- instead, in most of the games that are at issue, Toledo covered the spread. I had been under the impression the claim against him was that he might have tried to influence other players to help the team _beat_ the spread. Should we view point inflating the same as point shaving?

Blogger Geoffrey Rapp -- 3/31/2007 9:26 PM  

Typically, anti-gambling rules do treat them the same. Pete Rose got in trouble for betting on Reds games--it did not matter whether he bet on them to win or lose.

I had not seen a report showing which specific games are at issue. I know that Toledo failed to cover in six games and covered in six games last year. But given that Geoffrey is living in the heart of the story (a fact I forgot when I wrote the post), I will defer to him on that fact.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 3/31/2007 11:15 PM  

Wasn't there also a point-shaving scandal involving Tulane's basketball program in (I think) the early 1980's?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/01/2007 1:00 AM  

Yes, good addition. John "Hot Rod" Williams was charged with shaving points in three games; his federal trial ended in a mistrial and the charges were dropped, at which point a successful NBA career began. I had forgotten there was point-shaving involved there; I had only remembered that as an improper-benefits situation. Tulane actually suspended its basketball program for four years or so after that.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 4/01/2007 7:38 AM  

Well guess I owe a friend a cold one as a result of this. I had done my own wager predicting that the next college betting scandal would be a player, trainer, manager, or assistant coach selling injury information gamblers. With so many schools refusing to release injury information I just figured that was the next scandal.

We've been overdue for a points shaving scandal though, seems like each decade brings one or two, though usually in basketball.

I listened to a radio talk host the other day say it was always going to happen because the players resent the huge money the schools make off them. Toledo wouldn't be the school I use to prove that theory, they generally lose a million or so a year on a budget that a Big 10 or SEC athletic director would blow through in a few months.

Blogger Mark -- 4/01/2007 8:46 AM  

Here's some updated information. WTOL, a local TV station, has posted a copy of the FBI's criminal complaint here:

Two things seem clear. First, in contrast to my initial information and previous comment, it does seem like the scheme involved here was a traditional "shaving" scheme. Second, McDougle has certainly made statements and is likely cooperating with the FBI in this case -- I would not be surprised if this complaint is followed in short order by a plea agreement.

Blogger Geoffrey Rapp -- 4/01/2007 3:28 PM  

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