College Basketball Players Begin Shaving Points for Money Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

American college basketball players were implicated and convicted for losing games for money, a scandal that rocked sports in the United States and led to a backlash of distrust of sports at all levels. The basketball program at City College of New York was banned from playing games at Madison Square Garden, and the team was moved to a lower division for competition.

Summary of Event

The City College of New York (CCNY) had reached a moment of glory in basketball history by winning both the National Collegiate Athletic National Collegiate Athletic Association;basketball Association (NCAA) Tournament and the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) in 1950. The top-rated team at the end of the 1950 season faced a scandal, however, less than one year later, when several players were implicated for point shaving: losing games deliberately, most often for money. [kw]College Basketball Players Begin Shaving Points for Money (Jan. 17, 1951) [kw]Basketball Players Begin Shaving Points for Money, College (Jan. 17, 1951) Hogan, Frank Poppe, Henry Byrnes, Jack Basketball;game fixing Point shaving in basketball Basketball;college Manhattan College Hogan, Frank Poppe, Henry Byrnes, Jack Basketball;game fixing Point shaving in basketball Basketball;college Manhattan College [g]United States;Jan. 17, 1951: College Basketball Players Begin Shaving Points for Money[00900] [c]Corruption;Jan. 17, 1951: College Basketball Players Begin Shaving Points for Money[00900] [c]Gambling;Jan. 17, 1951: College Basketball Players Begin Shaving Points for Money[00900] [c]Hoaxes, frauds, and charlatanism;Jan. 17, 1951: College Basketball Players Begin Shaving Points for Money[00900] [c]Law and the courts;Jan. 17, 1951: College Basketball Players Begin Shaving Points for Money[00900] [c]Sports;Jan. 17, 1951: College Basketball Players Begin Shaving Points for Money[00900] Roth, Al Roman, Ed Warner, Ed

Point shaving is the practice of manipulating the number of points scored in a game. Players accept bribes from gamblers to miss shots or blocks, which causes their teams either to lose or to win by narrower margins than gamblers predict. This manipulation is called going outside the spread, a method used by gamblers to give better odds to lower-ranked teams to win a game. Oddsmakers benefit greatly from this player manipulation, making it worth the cost of the bribes to pay off the players to lose or to “cover” the spread. Soon after beginning his search into allegations of point shaving in past tournaments, New York City district attorney Frank Hogan found how far reaching this scandal was.

The events, which spanned almost an entire year, began on January 17, 1951, when two players from Manhattan College were arrested on charges of bribery. Henry Poppe and Jack Byrnes had received fifty dollars per week throughout the season and an additional three thousand dollars each for Manhattan to lose two games at Madison Square Garden. They received an additional two thousand dollar payoff to prevent the spread in two other games that season. Poppe had made the mistake of trying to recruit Junius Kellogg, a junior at Manhattan, who in turn reported the two players to their coach, Ken Norton. The police were quickly involved, and several days later Poppe and Byrnes were arrested.

More charges of bribery were levied on February 18, when the first CCNY players were arrested. Al Roth, Ed Roman, and Ed Warner were charged with accepting $4,650, $3,250, and $2,500, respectively, for losing games throughout the season. These charges would mark the beginning of the scandal only; two days later, three members of the Long Island University (LIU) basketball team were brought in by District Attorney Hogan. Among the LIU players were LeRoy Smith and Adolph Bigos, both veterans of the U.S. armed services. Smith had been a Marine and Bigos had served in the Army and earned a bronze star. Also among those charged at LIU was Sherman White, who was touted as the best New York college basketball player of all time.

Three more City College players were arrested on March 26. Irwin Dambrot, Norm Mager, and Herb Cohen were all charged with accepting bribes. Four days later, LIU came back into the limelight with the arrest of Louis Lipman. On April 13, Richard Feutardo was arrested for helping to deliberately lose games several years earlier. The search left New York when Hogan arrested Eli Klukofsky on April 20. Klukofsky had bribed players from City College and Toledo University to throw games in 1948 and 1949. The players from Toledo—Jack Freeman, Bob McDonald, Carlo Muzi, and Bill Waller—were making good money by shaving points, but they never imagined they were doing business with the Mob. Klukofsky had been linked to organized crime, and it was suggested that he was merely a conduit between the players and Mob bookies. Klukofsky died during his trial, and no more information was obtained on his Mob ties.

Over the next six months, Hogan would arrest fifteen more players, bringing the total to thirty-two from seven different schools. Most of the players received suspended sentences, but some did spend time in jail. The longest sentence issued was four to seven years, but the average was one to three years. Of the game fixers, all but Klukofsky served time in prison. None of the players indicted would ever again step foot on a basketball court. One player accused was able to play for the National Basketball National Basketball Association Association (NBA), in what would be very short-lived career. His opportunity was an exception.

Bill Spivey, a leading center for the University of Kentucky and an NCAA champion, was banned from playing at Kentucky on March 2, 1952. Rumors abounded that Spivey had shaved points, but no charges were proven. The court proceedings ended in mistrial, and Spivey was never formally charged. However, he was banned from playing in the NBA.

There have been four other scandals in NCAA history that have come close to the magnitude of the scandal of 1951. Rick Kuhn of Boston College Basketball;game fixing Boston College;basketball scandal was put on trial after being accused of shaving points during six games during the 1978-1979 season. He was later sentenced to ten years in prison. In 1985, Tulane University dropped its basketball program after five players were indicted on multiple counts of point shaving and bribery. Two players from Northwestern University were charged with fixing the outcomes of several games during the 1994-1995 season. Steven Smith, of Arizona State, served almost one year in jail after pleading guilty to shaving points in four games during the 1994-1995 season. None of these incidents affected college sports with the same fury as the shaving scandal of 1951.

Impact

The 1951 point-shaving scandal was the first large-scale admission to cheating and bribery in American sports history, yet, despite the consequences of gambling and cheating, point shaving continues as a problem in college sports.

Those most directly affected by the scandal clearly were the players who got caught. Some of them built on the lessons they learned to teach others about their mistakes, while others let the scandal destroy them. Gene Melchiorre of Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois—who also was indicted in the 1951 scandal—toured the United States along with implicated LIU player White and talked to students about the scandal. They tried to right their wrongs by teaching younger players the negative effects of point shaving. Spivey of Kentucky University did not follow the same path. The shame of the 1951 incidents affected him deeply after he left the United States to start a new life in South America. Friends said that he got relief from the scandal only when he died in 1995.

Less obviously affected by the scandal was the basketball team at CCNY, which was banned from playing games at Madison Square Garden and moved from Division I to Division III play. As a result of the ban, with its consequent drain on incoming funds for the college, several sports programs at the school had to be shut down.

The 1951 scandal, furthermore, destroyed college basketball’s once-innocent reputation. Nevertheless, the sport rebounded and continues to thrive. Over the years, NCAA basketball has expanded into more than sixty teams and brought in millions of dollars each season. Basketball lovers may never forget the misdeeds of 1951, but they did forgive. Hogan, Frank Poppe, Henry Byrnes, Jack Basketball;game fixing Point shaving in basketball Basketball;college Manhattan College

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Quirk, Charles E. Sports and the Law: Major Legal Cases. New York: Garland, 1999. Collection that details sports-related cases in state and federal courts and with the NCAA governing board. Chapters include bibliographies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Savage, Jim. The Encyclopedia of the NCAA Basketball Tournament: The Complete Independent Guide to College Basketball’s Championship Event. New York: Dell, 1990. Extensive compendium of basketball’s championship tournament. Contains mundane but helpful facts and little-known bits of information.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Staurowsky, Ellen J. “Piercing the Veil of Amateurism: Commercialization, Corruption, and U.S. College Sports.” In The Commercialization of Sport, edited by Trevor Slack. New York: Routledge, 2004. Staurowsky discusses how amateur athletics in the United States has moved to commercialized and corrupt spectacle.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thelin, John R. Games Colleges Play: Scandal and Reform in Intercollegiate Athletics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. Provides a chronicle of college sports from 1910 to 1990. Discusses specific scandalous events and examines how college sports is an integral part of university, and American, life.

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