BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — College sports have faced no shortage lately of high-profile investigations and penalties. Very few of those cases, though, threaten the integrity of the games the way point shaving does.
The vulnerability of college athletes to gambling influences resurfaced last week when Yahoo! Sports reported the FBI is investigating suspended Auburn basketball Varez Ward’s possible involvement in an alleged point-shaving scheme. The story also raises the difficult question of how often college games are manipulated in relation to point spreads.
“It’s very difficult to say how common it is because you don’t know how many people are doing it and not getting caught,” said David Schwartz, director of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Center for Gaming Research.
“It’s almost a perfect storm for criminal conspiracy when you’ve got young athletes with uncertain futures who may be financially vulnerable and, the rationale would be, they’re not going to be really hurting anybody if they shave a few points or lose by a few more. There’s a lot of potential for illegal bookies or even legal sports books to make a lot of money from this.”
Justin Wolfers, an associate professor of business and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, studied 44,120 NCAA Division I men’s basketball games and point spreads from 1989 to 2005. He concluded in a 2006 research paper that 1 percent, or nearly 500 games, involved “gambling-related corruption” and suggested about 6 percent of strongly-favored teams had players willing to manipulate their performance.