Why Do We Believe Our Games Aren’t Fixed

Brian Phillips wrote a wonderful synopsis of everything we know about the soccer match fixing scandal that Europol outlined earlier this week.  If you haven’t read it you should go right now.  I’ll wait.

Done.  Good.

The way he lays out the ease in which these games are fixed is fascinating.  Aided by the amount of games, the number of jurisdictions this Dan Tan Syndicate crosses, and number of bets placed any one game gets lost in the maelstrom.  This makes me wonder two things.  First, a 34 minute black out in the stadium where the Super Bowl was in the 3rd quarter in New Orleans.  Yeah, that isn’t fishy or anything.  Second, it seems it would be pretty easy to fix college basketball games.

I’m going to write some fictional account of what may or may not have happened in New Orleans a little later.

Now, for how it would be easy to fix a college basketball game.  Think of how many games there are on any Saturday.  According to the ESPN schedule, there are 146 games this coming Saturday, both great and small.  If you were going to point shave a game, you wouldn’t touch the UNC/Miami game at 2:00 on ESPN or the Louisville/Notre Dame game at 9:00 on ESPN.  You would look towards the Cal State San Marcos/Cal State Bakersfield game tipping off at 10:00 Eastern time.

You want a game with little national consequence and as little media exposure as possible.  You also want players who have nothing to lose.  A game between two major conference teams has too many players who want to be in the NBA.  They have too much to lose, but a kid on scholarship at some small school is just hoping to play some ball, maybe get a look with a NBA or NBDL team or play a couple of years in Europe or Asia.  Mostly, he is just trying to use the fact that he is a basketball player to get laid (“Every team in every sport on a college campus has groupies,” Terry Lankford, aka Eightball) and get a free education.  A $2000 offer to shave points might seem like a good business proposition to him.

So, you approach him and say, “We don’t want you to lose the game.  Just don’t cover or miss the over.  We will route the money to you and it will be clean as a baby’s butt.  No one will know.”  That is why point shaving is the best form of sports gambling corruption.  First, it is hard to prove without someone admitting it or getting caught with a bag of money for doing it.  Second, it allows the person shaving points to believe they aren’t really doing anything wrong.  You still win the game, just by not as many points as you should.

For me the question isn’t, “Why doesn’t this happen?” but, “How often does it happen?”  How many of us, college basketball fans look at the scores of the games at the bottom of the schedule on a Saturday night.  Do you think anyone not in the Cal State San Marcos Cougar family is going to notice this game?  The computer safe-guards the betting houses have can be skirted just by keeping the betting volume and amount under a certain level.  As long as you don’t get greedy with any one game and spreading your bets between multiple bettors, you can avoid that trap.

Look, maybe I’m a guy who always thinks about the absolute worst thing that can happen.  I did write a blog post about the nightmare scenario of a player getting killed during the Super Bowl.  But, if sports has taught us anything over the last ten years, the nightmare scenario maybe far worse then anything we can imagine.

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