More Thoughts on the USD Scandal and the NCAA’s Response…Posted by rtmsf on April 12th, 2011
With the news released today that former University of San Diego star Brandon Johnson was allegedly a co-conspirator in an ongoing criminal scheme involving point shaving, illegal bookmaking and marijuana trafficking, the NCAA was once again sideswiped by the harsh reality that its games are particularly vulnerable to these and other such enterprises. This is the second such conspiracy uncovered by federal authorities in the last three years — remember that former Toledo guard Sammy Villegas admitted in 2008 to attempting to fix games during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons and is currently awaiting sentencing in Ohio.
As we’ve been on record stating through educated inference and others’ statistical analyses examining betting tendencies, we believe that this sort of thing happens a whole lot more than the NCAA would like to believe. Here’s what we know. We know that approximately one percent of games (~30) per season fall into a statistical outlier against the spread that does not appear to be explained through the normal ebb and flow of the game. We know that the NCAA itself says that 1.6% of its men’s basketball players self-report illicit solicitations to influence the point spread in their games. We know that these players are not paid beyond room, board and incidentals. And we also know that with the proliferation of offshore gaming and the ubiquity of legal gambling in our society (lotteries, card rooms, casinos, horse racing, etc.), the stigma of gambling is probably at an all-time low in American history. With all of these factors working against the NCAA’s stated core value of preserving the integrity of its contests, how is it that we’re only seeing one of these scandals pop up every few years? The easy answer is that the non-existence of such scandals proves that education and enforcement is working, but color us mighty skeptical. We fear that the more truthful answer is that it’s happening repeatedly right under our noses, but the NCAA and federal law enforcement simply do not have the resources or focus to catch it until it gets out of hand (e.g., an absurd ten people were involved in this!).
In a formal statement this afternoon, NCAA President Mark Emmert had this to say:
There is nothing more threatening to the integrity of sports anywhere than the uncovering of a point-shaving scheme. This scheme is especially disturbing because efforts to compromise game outcomes extended over more than one season, involved individuals on more than one team and was successful, according to the indictment.
Agreed, Dr. Emmert. Not only was it successful, but it went on for another year and involved additional attempts to solicit players into the scheme. Our question is this… what if the peripherals to this case — the easier-to-discover weed and bookmaking crimes — had never happened? What if Johnson and a buddy had been the only ones involved in the conspiracy to shave points? Or Johnson alone? Right. That’s our point. No matter how much education, outreach and scare tactics that the NCAA throws at its student-athletes, it’s just that easy if you’re smart enough to not involve every uncle, acquaintance and former best friend along the way to the bankroll. The truth is that all we can really hope for is that there are enough stupid would-be point shavers out there who get nailed so that the NCAA can continue to trot these folks’ mug shots out in front of its players during its semi-annual education seminars.
Now, on to the fun stuff. We know from the indictment that Johnson is accused of shaving points in at least one game in February 2010, but it didn’t indicate which game. We took a look at all of the Toreros’ games that month, comparing how USD did against the spread with Johnson’s game statistics. As you can see below, there were two games that jumped out at us (in yellow): A February 6th home date against Santa Clara, where USD was favored by 7.5 points but lost convincingly; and, a February 25th home game against Loyola Marymount, where the Toreros were favored by 3.5 points but lost a close one.
In both of these games, Johnson performed well under his season average of 14.0 points and 11.7 field goal attempts per game, going for six points versus Santa Clara (on eight attempts) and only four points against LMU (on six attempts). Perhaps more tellingly, the usually sure-handed Johnson made a season-high five turnovers against the Lions, giving away extra possessions in a game that could have gone either way. Obviously, we’re only speculating as to which game Johnson may have left his criminal imprint upon, but these two seem to be the most likely candidates.
The indictment also states that Johnson asked another unidentified USD player to shave points in a January 2011 game the following season, but it doesn’t appear that the player actually went through with it. San Diego was beyond bad last season so it’s difficult for us to believe any player on the team would have the ability to manipulate a point spread to his advantage, but that doesn’t mean Johnson and his cohorts didn’t try to do so. The San Diego administration made a comment that suggested that even more games could have been affected, so it’ll be interesting to see what else comes from this, if anything. This much is true regardless. If the NCAA wants to continue to believe that these are isolated instances, that’s fine; they just shouldn’t be surprised when it hits a major program in its showcase event down the line.