Point Shaving in College Sports

Former Maryland congressman and former Maryland basketball star Tom McMillen did his best Chicken Little impression recently, imploring the Maryland elected establishment to beware of college sports gambling scandals. The sky, he assured all of them, is falling!


Maybe it is.

Mr. McMillen adamantly implored everyone who could do something about it to be ever-vigilant with expanding sports wagering in his state (and presumably all the other states). McMillen’s take is that some awful and high-profile sports gambling scam is gonna happen and it is inevitable and will create an absolute crisis in the Maryland sportscape. Or elsewhere…in the other sports programs and states his group represents. He doesn’t go on to provide any facts or statistics, but does his best to warn us all that the end is indeed near!

Thanks for your diligence bud, but we know this. In fact, it is certainly going on today. And yesterday and most certainly tomorrow.

How easy would it be for a couple of guys on a college basketball team to conspire to shave points? Pretty darn easy. And how easy would it be for these guys to open an online betting account, or to have a friend open an account online, or just roll into a newly legalized sportsbook, for the express purpose of making money off the “known” outcome of a game? Pretty darn easy. As I see it, the most easy bet in college sports to manipulate would be betting the Under on the Total. Good old fashioned point-shaving.

McMillen’s primary take, without providing a single fact to support his thesis, is that college athletes “are vulnerable to outside gambling influences” and the state of Maryland must ensure that schools have the resources to safeguard against betting scandals.

Mr. McMillen was pontificating his viewpoint as the president and CEO of the LEAD1 Association. The organization represents the athletics directors of the 130 universities in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision. Note that – he is primarily interested in rescuing college football from the perceived vagaries of expanded sports wagering.

McMillen went on to suggest – his group is not asking lawmakers or the governor to oppose legalized sports betting. Rather, he said he wants to ensure funding is offered to help colleges ensure the integrity of their sports programs. He said that nearly 80 percent of the athletic directors he represents are opposed to betting on college sports — partly because of concerns about scandals.

LEAD1 has suggested that schools educate their campus communities about gambling rules, and that college coaches reinforce university and NCAA rules against student-athlete involvement in sports wagering.

“Our universities are too important to be diminished by a highly publicized sports betting scandal,” McMillen’s letter to the elected officials said.

So…what Mr. McMillen is really asking for is cash to support his group’s efforts. He’s not trying to stop anything, really, he’s just trying to set up his agency as a watchdog over the possibility that there may be a betting scandal at one of the university football (and presumably hoops) programs he and his group represent.

A solution in search of cash to warn against a problem that probably already exists to some extent.

My take is this…point-shaving is almost certainly going on and we may never know to what extent. Hence, as bettors, we should do our homework, including the math, to determine what the most-likely final total will be. We can also watch line movement and should be able to identify when a total does something out of the ordinary. Then we will most likely bet the Under.

In the best of both worlds, we can all make money off this. We bettors can make money from being on the right side of the shave. And Mr. McMillen’s group, which intends to somehow protect college sports from the certain likelihood of scandal, makes money from ginning up the potential controversy.

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