Twenty years ago, former Arizona State guard Stevin "Hedake" Smith penned an open letter to Sports Illustrated detailing how easily college athletes can be drawn into fixing games.
He was an authority on the subject.
The prolific scorer became embroiled in the 1994 high-stakes Arizona State point-shaving scandal, along with teammate Issac Burton. They were eventually arrested, and both pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges, admitting to taking money to fix games that year.
“Poor, naïve teenagers plus rich, greedy gamblers equal disaster,” Smith wrote. “As simple as it was for me, it can only be that simple elsewhere.”
Smith’s two-decade old comments are relevant once again after the Supreme Court in May deemed a 1992 law unconstitutional, effectively allowing states to legalize sports gambling.
Times have changed, but more sports betting exposure could mean more opportunity for college athletes to veer off the wrong path.
“Approach LeBron James and say, ‘I’ll give you $10,000 to miss a shot.’ Well, he’s not going to do that,” West Virginia President Gordon Gee said last month. “On the other hand, students are very vulnerable.”
Here are some of the most notable point-shaving scandals in NCAA history.
Long before social media existed and sporting events streamed on television screen across America, a total of 32 players from seven teams, including City College of New York, New York University, Long Island University, Manhattan College, Bradley University, Kentucky and Toledo, were involved in a complex fix that affected 86 games.
The lasting effects were notable. A once-proud basketball powerhouse — CCNY became the only team to win both the NCAA Tournament and NIT in the same year — was crippled. CCCNY dropped down to Division III. Long Island, meanwhile, shut down its program for seven years until 1957. Kentucky’s Ralph Beard and Alex Groza were later banned from the NBA for their involvement in the scheme.
Boston College (1978-79)
Conspirators paid Boston College players, mainly Rick Kuhn and Jim Sweeney, to shave points depending on the spread and opponent.
In total, nine games were fixed. Various members of the operation were arrested and sentenced. Sweeney wasn’t charged. Leading scorer Ernie Cobb was accused but acquitted. Kuhn had a 10-year sentence reduced to 28 months. ESPN featured the scandal as part of a 2014 30 for 30 series titled "Playing for the Mob."
Star forward John Williams, better known as "Hot Rod" Williams, allegedly accepted payments to alter games at Tulane in the 1980s. Five players reportedly divided $18,000 for point-shaving games against Memphis State and Southern Miss.
To make matters worse, coach Ned Fowler reportedly paid players during the season. Two players later testified against Williams, first resulting in the removal of the basketball staff and resignation of its athletic director. Tulane later shut down the program until 1990.
It took three years for the news to break, but two players were linked and later charged in a point-shaving scheme of three Northwestern basketball games. Guard Kenneth Lee allegedly received $4,000 to recruit two players to help lose games by large margins in order to beat the point spread. Lee and teammate Dewey Williams were given one-month terms in prison.
The football program dealt with another gambling issuer in 1998 after four players were indicted for lying about their involvement in a sports gambling investigation. Chris Gamble pled guilty and was sentenced to two months in prison.
Arizona State (1994)
Sandwiched between the sagas at Tulane and Northwestern, Arizona State found itself caught in one of the most high-profile (in terms of money) points-shaving scheme in NCAA history.
Star guard Stevin "Hedake" Smith and teammate Isaac Burton were paid thousands of dollars to fix four games in 1994. A problem gambler, Smith jumped head first into point shaving to help pay off debts. He wrote in 1998 he received $20,000 to help point shave a game against Oregon.
Former student Benny Silman led the scheme and later served a 46-month sentence for his involvement. Smith kept a low profile until 1997 when the investigation led to a year in jail. Burton served two months in jail.
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