40 YEARS AGO
WEEDS IN THE GARDEN
In January 1951, college basketball was enjoying another season as the hottest ticket in town, and the hottest arena in the hottest town was New York's Madison Square Garden. Home of the prestigious National Invitation Tournament and the unofficial home court of national powers LIU, NYU and CCNY, the Garden was basketball's mecca.
Betting had long been a common and fairly undisguised enterprise at the Garden, and the popularization of the point spread during the previous decade had done nothing to discourage its proliferation. Crowds were as likely to cheer the basket that beat the spread as the one that won the game. Unfortunately, the point spread also created abundant new opportunities for corruption.
On Jan. 17, Henry Poppe, a former Manhattan College player, was arrested for his role in a point-shaving scheme in Manhattan's game against DePaul the day before. Authorities had been apprised of the fix before the game by Junius Kellogg. Manhattan's star center, after Poppe offered Kellogg $ 1,000 to miss a shot here and there. After Poppe's arrest, the press started getting tips on other players involved in fixing. The titans of basketball began to topple.
Returning from a rout of Temple on Feb. 17, three CCNY starters were picked up at Penn Station for questioning by representatives of the Manhattan D.A.'s office; all confessed to fixing games. Soon afterward, three LIU players were nabbed. Across the country, fingers pointed at the corrupt environs of New York. In Peoria, Ill., the highly ranked Bradley Braves voted unanimously never to play in the Garden again. In Lexington, Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp proclaimed that gamblers couldn't touch his players "with a 10-foot pole."
It wasn't long before Rupp and the Braves were choking on their sanctimony. By the end of the year, three Bradley starters and three Kentucky players had admitted to taking-bribes to shave points. Two of the stars of Kentucky's '49 national championship team, Ralph Beard and Alex Groza, were kicked out A of the NBA in disgrace. Rupp's untouchables were among the biggest offenders of all.
By the time the investigation was concluded, the body count was staggering. Between 1947 and 1950, according to the D.A.'s office, 32 players from seven schools had been involved in the fixing of 86 games in 23 cities across 17 states. The New York programs were devastated, and college basketball in the Garden would never be the same.