The point-shaving scandal of 1951 rocked College Basketball as well as American sport on the whole. The City College of New York (CCNY) team which had secured an incredible double in 1950 by winning the NCAA and NIT championships were in disarray less than 12 months later after it was revealed that a number of their players had taken part in point-shaving activities.
Seven members of the highly successful CCNY team were eventually arrested, alongside players from six other colleges after it was found that they had taken money from gamblers to help fix college basketball games.
Much of the trouble came from schools in the New York area, with local colleges; Manhattan, New York University (NYU) and Long Island University (LIU) also found to have been involved in the fixing according to the New York Times who revealed a number of examples of the point-shaving. The investigation, headed by Frank Hogan, spread across the country and saw Toledo, Bradley and Kentucky universities also caught up in the scandal with their players found to have worked alongside organized crime groups to fix the outcome of matches.
For the period from 1947-1951, it was found that a total of 86 college basketball games had been fixed in 17 states across the country. The investigation carried out by the New York District Attorney’s office found that altogether 32 players from seven colleges had carried out the fixes, in what was described at the time as the biggest scandal to hit American sport since 1919, when the Black Sox threw the World Series.
The scandal first came to public attention at the beginning of 1951, when a pair of Manhattan basketball players who had been with the team in the previous year, plus three fixers were arrested for bribery and conspiracy. It turned out the players, Henry Poppe and Jack Byrnes had ensured that Manhattan lost games, as well as going over the point margin in other matches, earning four-figure sums on each occasion according to ESPN who charted all of the arrests.
Then, less than a month later a trio of CCNY players were all arrested for on charges of bribery after returning home following a 95-71 victory over Temple. Ed Warner, Ed Roman and Al Roth’s arrests were the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of unearthing the fixing. Two days later, three players from LIU were arrested after they had taken bribes to throw basketball games, with the team on the cusp of winning the NIT and NCAA titles.
Over the following months, many more players were taken into custody to hear charges of bribery and fixing, with the true extent of what was happening in New York college basketball now being flushed out into the open.
Outside of New York, the degree to how big this scandal was really hit home when Kentucky basketball players became involved in criminal proceedings. Ralph Beard, Alex Groza and Dale Barnstable were all placed on indefinite probation and banned from all sport for three years after admitting that they accepted $500 bribes to shave points.
Beard and Groza were big names in the sport having been involved in two NCAA championship teams for the Wildcats. The pair had also won Olympic gold medals in the 1948 Games in London, but after being found guilty, NBA commissioner Maurice Podoloff suspended the duo.
Another Kentucky player, Bill Spivey, made big news after the All-American center was banned from playing for the university. Teammates had made accusations against Spivey, who was indicted for perjury in 1953 by Hogan before later being having his case dismissed following a mistrial, but his dream of playing in the NBA had been ended.
The NCAA came down hard on the universities who had taken part in the point-shaving due to the severity of the crimes. Kentucky’s basketball team were suspended from playing during the 1952-1953 season but managed to recover and continue as one of the top programs in the country, winning national titles in 1996, 1998 and 2012.
LIU were not so fortunate, and were forced to drop all athletic programs from 1951 to 1957, while CCNY’s incredible double championship side from 1950 were soon forgotten as the school fell from Division I competition all the way down to Division III.
Another sanction which was handed out, meant that New York City did not host an NCAA March Madness Tournament game for 63 years. This ruling came to an end in 2014, when Madison Square Gardens was chosen to host the East Regional semi-finals and final which saw eventual national champions UConn prevail. The New York Daily News welcomed the NCAA Tournament back with a historical look at college basketball in their city, calling it the Mecca of Basketball.