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A stain on the game
Another point-shaving scandal rocks college basketball
Posted: Fri March 27, 1998 at 9:07 AM ET
CHICAGO (CNN/SI) -- College basketball was hit by another point-shaving scandal Thursday on the eve of its showcase event -- this time at Northwestern, a school known more for brains than betting lines.
Federal indictments charged former Wildcat starters Kenneth Dion Lee and Dewey Williams and two others with fixing the outcome of three basketball games during the 1994-95 season. A former Wildcat football player was accused in a separate indictment of running a bookmaking operation on the Northwestern campus.
It was the latest in a string of gambling cases involving college basketball players since the point-shaving scandal of 1951, which involved schools such as Kentucky, City College of New York and New York University. And it came when the spotlight on college basketball was brightest -- two days before the Final Four in San Antonio.
"It's a bomb ready to explode," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "It can happen to anybody. You wouldn't even know about it until it happened."
Other recent point-shaving scandals hit Arizona State and Tulane. Two years ago, 13 Boston College football players were suspended for betting on college and pro football and major league baseball games.
As a result, CNN/SI's Ed Werder has learned that for the first time ever at the Final Four the subject of sports gambling will be part of the official agenda. Players and coaches from the participating teams will meet Friday with Bill Saum, the NCAA repre sentative on the issues of agents and gambling.
The reason? Dempsey expects $4.5 billion to be waged on this weekend's games.
"You would like to be able to give an athlete an educational opportunity if they make mistakes to recover from those mistakes," Dempsey said. "On the other hand, when you uncover an issue like this, which goes toward the fiber of the game, the goal is to eliminate the opportunity to compete at the collegiate level."
Part of the shock accompanying Thursday's revelations is that Northwestern is known more for academic success than sports. Although the Wildcats made the Rose Bowl as Big Ten football champions three seasons ago, they rarely have produced winning basketball teams. The 1993-94 club that went to the NIT is the school's last basketball team with a winning record, 15-14.
Former Arizona State coach Bill Frieder, who resigned last summer after eight seasons at the Sun Devils' helm, empathized with Northwestern's predicament.
"We have a senior women's administrator at our school, Arizona State, who came from Northwestern, and she's trying to get our program more like Northwestern's," said Frieder, whose resignation was hastened by a series of off-court player problems that inc luded the point-shaving investigation. "Now that Northwestern's involved, it might wake up people out there, and they might start to admit this can happen anywhere. No one is immune."
Under the indictments announced at a news conference, Lee and Williams were charged with point-shaving, while Kevin Pendergast and Brian Irving were charged with conspiring to fix the outcome of the three games -- at home against Wisconsin and Penn State, and on the road against Michigan.
Pendergast is a former kicker at Notre Dame who led the Irish in scoring in 1993, said Notre Dame sports information director John Heisler.
Pendergast and Irving, who both now live in California, were accused of betting on Northwestern's opponents and persuading others to follow suit at casinos in Reno, Nevada, Las Vegas and elsewhere, according to the U.S. attorney.
"We as coaches take great offense to the fact that there are those who try to influence the outcome of games even if it isn't changing the outcome of the game as far as winning or losing," said Louisville's Denny Crum.
The Wildcats lost each game by at least 14 points and failed to cover the point spread against the Badgers and Nittany Lions. Northwestern finished the season 5-22 under coach Ricky Byrdsong, who did not return a message left at his office Thursday.
The government said Pendergast paid Lee $4,000 to fix the Penn State game. Prosecutors would not disclose how much more was involved in the alleged payoffs, other than to say the players got nothing for the Michigan game because they failed to beat the point spread.
The government said $20,000 was wagered on that game by the two accused gamblers, but would not say how much more money was involved.
"Unfortunately, student-athletes are vulnerable to the temptations and pressures associated with gambling and greed," U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar said. "That, however, does not condone unlawful conduct."
The U.S. attorney's office discovered the alleged point-shaving during an ongoing investigation that was prompted by Northwestern's own internal investigation in 1994, said Randy Samborn, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney. He said he could not give details of how the players shaved points.
"Right now, there's nothing that is concrete on it, except if you look at some of [the players'] performances, they don't live up to their season averages," he said.
Lee, a guard, averaged 12 points and Williams, a center-forward, averaged 8.1 that season, but they each averaged 6.3 points in the three games. Lee scored just two points against Penn State.
Lee had been suspended by the school for six games during the '94-'95 season for betting on football not involving Northwestern, prosecutors said. They said it was only weeks after his return to the team that he began the conspiracy to shave points.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said Northwestern's investigation of Lee that led to the suspension found no evidence of point shaving.
"If I ever had a player involved in point-shaving, I probably wouldn't talk to him for the rest of his lifetime," said Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins.
Prosecutors said a reserve basketball player, Matthew Purdy, also agreed to participate in the scheme and was named as an unindicted co-consipirator.
Former football player Brian Ballerini was charged with accepting bets on sporting events from other Northwestern athletes, including Lee. The charges against Ballerini include an accusation he threatened to harm Lee if he did not pay a gambling debt.
Lassar said Ballerini and Lee were cooperating with prosecutors and were expected to plead guilty.
None of those named in the indictments were available for comment. Prosecutors said they believed Lee lived in Louisville, Kentucky, and Williams in Chicago, but they did not know what they do for a living.
William Saum, an NCAA gambling specialist, said illegal sports betting is a problem "on virtually every college campus in America."
He said Northwestern acted swiftly and properly when it first learned of the possibility of illegal gambling. He said no sanctions were planned against the university.
The games in question were on February 15, February 22 and March 1, in 1995. In the first game, in which Wisconsin was favored by 13 1/2 points, the Badgers beat Northwestern 70-56 after trailing 28-21 at the half.
In the next game, Penn State was favored by 14 points and won 89-59. In the third, Michigan was favored by 24 1/2 points and won 81-64.
Rick Taylor, Northwestern's athletic director, said the school learned only Thursday of the charges.
He said point-shaving "purely and simply is betrayal -- betrayal of self, teammate, family, coaches, university and the very game itself."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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