Calling All College Sports Fans: Point Shaving Is A Problem, And We’re Not Paying Nearly Enough AttentionPosted by Chris Johnson on June 6th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
College sports’ problems cannot be hemmed in around one single issue or theme. There is a vast array of various issues eating away at the very core of the intercollegiate athletic landscape, loath as we are to discuss them all in equal measure. The usual discussions about the usual problems tend to fall under one of two hot-button umbrellas: the NCAA and conference realignment. Mentioning either tends to boil the blood of all fans; not even the dividing lines of team or conference or regional loyalty can’t break up the unifying hate. Conference realignment talk has cooled off in recent weeks thanks to the ACC’s landmark grant of rights deal, which should halt the league-shifting turnstiles among major conferences. The NCAA knows no relief from outside vitriol, though, and you can rest assured the scorn will continue to rain down as long as “amateurism” and a crookedly impractical rulebook and Mark Emmert remain visible parts of the organization. We talk about these things a lot because they make it easy to do so, and because we – fans, media, whoever – understand the moving parts, the underlying tectonic plates, the incentives. We get this stuff. It’s practically straightforward, and morally persuasive (and if you have a lot of friends that enjoy watching and talking about college sports, almost by necessity a part of your cocktail hour conversation arsenal) to shake our firsts and raise a hellstorm about.
It’s time we pay more attention to another issue: point shaving. You’ve heard of it before, yes? The supposed-to-be subtlety of intentionally performing below your capability to artificially doctor a game’s final score for a financial reward. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is. An ill-intentioned money-hungry go-between reaches out to an influential player on a low-profile mid-major team, offers a relatively small sum (say, $1,000) to back-rim a few jumpers and commit a couple not-unintentional turnovers, just enough to stay under the posted point spread. The player, a typical college student with typical college student financial constraints, happily agrees to consciously muddle his performance. Who wouldn’t take that deal? With little rhyme or reason for unprompted external suspicion, and a near-impossibly onerous burden of proof to demonstrate a sustained effort to manipulate a given game’s point spread, of course I’ll make that happen. That shudderingly simple and coherent line of thinking is what led San Diego star Brandon Johnson, the perfect real-life fit for the prototypical point shaving target-manna athlete, to cast his lot with bookies and an assistant coach with nefarious motivations and intentions.