Saturday, March 18, 2006

Mayer: Bradley basketball once caught in scandal


Don't look now, but The Beast lurks ready to pounce again, growling in the background and sniffing for easy prey. That would be college basketball gambling. Past impacts have been damaging; the prospects for increased victimization could bring far more devastation.

Bradley University, the latest Kansas University opponent, suffered its share of carnage by The Beast - only a year after it reached the national finals. Bradley defeated KU in a '50 playoff game to get to the big one against City College of New York. With some $2.5 BILLION due to be wagered on the 2006 NCAA Tournament, how many other young men might get cancerized?

College ball was rocked to its core by the gambling scandals of 1951. They eventually involved seven schools and 32 players who fixed 86 games between 1947 and 1950. The money then was incredibly lower now. There have been periodic fixing problems since, but nothing hit quite as hard as the '51 zingers.

CCNY won the NIT and NCAA crowns in 1950, then regarded as the No. 1 feat in college history. City College edged Bradley for both the NCAA and NIT titles. With sophomore stars Clyde Lovellette, Bob Kenney, Bill Hougland and Bill Lienhard, KU tied for its league title, got a playoff game with Bradley, but fell 59-57. It was the only KU-BU meeting up to now. Yet all was not kosher in the land of the roundball.

On Feb. 18, 1951, three CCNY stars were arrested on charges of bribery. Other New York schools involved were Manhattan College, New York U. and Long Island. Shoes kept dropping. On July 24, 1951, Bradley players Gene Melchiorre, Bill Mann, Bud Grover, Aaron Preece and Jim Kelly admitted taking bribes from gamblers to hold down scores against Saint Joseph's in Philadelphia and against Oregon State in Chicago.

Ultimately in the mess, Bradley's Melchiorre, Mann and George Chianakos got suspended sentences while Grover, Preece, Kelly and Fred Schlictman were acquitted.

But a shocker as big as the one with double-winner CCNY came Oct. 20. Kentucky stars Ralph Beard, Alex Groza and Dale Barnstable were nailed for taking $500 bribes to shave points in an NIT game against Loyola of Chicago in Madison Square Garden in '49. Beard and Groza had been on two NCAA title teams and the victorious '48 U.S. Olympic squad. Judge Saul Streit barred them from all sports for three years, the pro league concurred; brilliant futures were obliterated.

Bradley was a major college force then, still some called for the tarnished school to drop the sport. With Forddy Anderson in charge, the Braves regrouped and reached the 1954 NCAA title game, losing to Tom Gola and LaSalle in Kansas City. This year they got back to their first NCAA tourney action since 1986.

George Beres in 1970 served as national chairman of the Intercollegiate Committee on Gambling Awareness while he was sports info director at Northwestern. Later he wrote: "Living in Peoria, Ill. . . . I knew players on the Bradley team involved in the scandal. They told me it seemed innocent enough to shave points, not lose, for money - especially when they were illegally given money at school with the coach's blessings. When they returned to the locker room after practice, often they'd find $20 bills stuck in their street shoes by boosters of the team. It was no bribe but illegal under NCAA rules."

Beres noted that what caused naive players to listen to gamblers was that they were not asked to "throw" games. They just shave points to make sure the final result will let gamblers win heavily by betting on a point-spread basis.

Setting the spread is "almost like an art form," says Chuck Esposito, a noted Las Vegas oddsmaker. "We're constantly raising numbers and lowering numbers to put ourselves in the best possible position where we hold a high percentage in different events." Now just imagine if you inveigle some key players into helping refine that "art form." The money today makes those $20 bills in the Bradley players' shoes something guys now might toss to the janitor.

As for gamblers' concern for players they can seduce, "I don't care who wins, as long as we win," says Esposito. Not exactly student-athlete friendly, huh?

Consider the lives that have been wrecked by the hustlers. The CCNY guys, Kentucky's superstars, Sherman White of Long Island - along with many lesser-knowns who'll always have dark clouds hovering over them.

Bradley's star in the fixing crisis was All-American Melchiorre, still an outcast with many Peorians. The school refuses to hang his jersey in the gym with the other All-Americans. That's how it should be.

With big money floating around these days, no coach at any school can ever be sure his kids aren't "manipulating." When the City College bombshell hit, Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp was asked if he worried about any of his guys being tainted.

"They couldn't touch my boys with a 10-foot pole!" he replied defiantly. Then the fecal matter hit the fan in autumn '51.

Sports writers who were never enamored with the Bloody Baron of the Bluegrass sent an 11-foot pole to Rupp's office with the note: "Hey, Adolph, they must have used this."

The Beast continues to growl and prowl, flashing longer financial fangs and claws than ever before. . . like $2.9 BILLION in betting on the 2006 tournament!


John Pritchett 13 years, 9 months ago

While shaving points is clearly wrong, the only losers are gamblers, people who are already breaking the law. What concerns me is the possibility that refs might be susceptible to these same influences. Players can throw a game, or shave points for a less decisive win, but they can't produce a win for profit. Refs, on the other hand, have the power to control a game. With so much parity today, the refs can have as much effect on the outcome of a game as the players and coaches. More so, in fact, because a lesser team can't choose to win, but a ref can choose to help a lesser team win. That's the real danger to this game. That's how gambling can corrupt the sport, making it an illusion.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.