College Hoops And A New York Legacy

Posted

For those who wonder why the Big Apple hasn’t hosted an NCAA basketball Final since 1950, the answer might lie in a game-fixing scandal that for years had left an indelible mark on college basketball.

A “Mecca” for college hoops in the 1940’s, New York’s Madison Square Garden (MSG) filled up regularly with exuberant fans cheering for more than just their favorite teams. Many in the arena were screaming “shoot the ball!” for no other reason than to win on their betting spreads.

Bookies, gamblers and unsavory characters have long found fertile ground around sports. New York in particular saw plenty of double-header nights and big wagers from the throngs of game goers.

For NCAA basketball, it all came to a head in 1951 when Junius Kellogg, a leading scorer for Manhattan College, blew the whistle on what became the biggest corruption story to ever hit college athletics.

A native of Virginia playing on a scholarship, Kellogg refused a $1,000 bribe offered by a former teammate to shave points off the spread of an upcoming game at MSG.

Kellogg reported the incident to the District Attorney’s office, which sent him back wearing a wire to collect more evidence. The scandal exploded, ultimately revealing that from 1947-50, 86 games were fixed in 23 different cities and involved 32 players from seven colleges.

Four of the schools were located in the New York area:

City College of New York (CCNY), Long Island University (LIU), New York University (NYU) and Manhattan College. The others were the University of Kentucky, Bradley University, and the University of Toledo.

Officials discovered that fixers were secretly paying college players to throw off points at certain matches during the season. The key money man was Salvatore Sollazzo, a jeweler and gambler with a criminal record.

Ten fixers, some with links to the underworld, ended up in jail with Sollazzo spending the longest term of 12 years. But the most explosive revelation for New Yorkers was the participation of members of CCNY’s basketball squad.

Historically unheralded, the Beavers were a Cinderella team that won both the NCAA and the NIT titles the same year in 1950, a combined feat that no other college had ever achieved.

Seven CCNY players received suspended sentences after pleading guilty to shaving points in three games during the 1949-50 season.

Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp was convinced his players were clean and remarked “they couldn’t reach my boys with a ten-foot pole”. But three of his star players were actually embroiled in the mess and two of them, Ralph Beard and Alex Groza, had their futures in the NBA derailed.

Perhaps the most ruined of the promising careers was that of LIU’s Sherman White, considered New York’s leading player at the time and possibly the best in the country.

The 6’8” leaping prodigy would have been the Knicks’ first round draft choice but he ended up serving 9 months in jail and barred from playing in the NBA.

While the 1951 point shaving scandal was not the last to plague college basketball, the institutional fallout was consequential and enduring.

The NCAA suspended Kentucky’s basketball program for the 1952-53 season. CCNY de-emphasized sports and a decade later dropped down to Division III. LIU shut down its entire athletic curriculum for 6 years and didn’t return to Division I until the 1980’s.

For New York, it might be argued that the big City lost the privilege of hosting an NCAA Championship Final for generations.

Other articles enjoyed: Phliadelphia Warriors, When UCLA Ruled Basketball, The Greatest Sports Deal Ever, Tallest & Shortest, WNBA Going Strong 

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

Shop For Our Books & DVD's

WEEKLY SPORTS PUZZLE

View larger Puzzle archive


THIS WEEK

10 years ago

MOTOR RACING  April 20, 2008- Danica Patrick wins the Indy Japan 300, becoming the first ever female driver to win at an Indy car race.  In 2005, the Wisconsin native was named Rookie of The Year for the Indianapolis 500 and the Indycar series after taking three pole positions. She is the most successful woman in American open-wheel racing.

20 years ago

FOOTBALL  April 18, 1998- At the NFL draft, QB Peyton Manning is the first pick by the Indianapolis Colts.  Coming out of the University of Tennessee, Manning was the school’s all-time leading passer and also held the most victories in the SEC. He would go on to win 2 Super Bowl championships- XLI with the Colts and 50 with the Broncos.

30 years ago

BASEBALL  April 20, 1988- The Baltimore Orioles set the worst record in MLB for a season start, going 0-14. They would lose the next 7 games before finally turning a game. Manager Cal Ripken was fired after posting 0-6  and replaced by Hall of Famer, Frank Robinson.  The Mid-Atlantic franchise closed out the year at 54-107.

40 years ago

RUNNING  April 17, 1978- Bill Rodgers wins the 82nd annual Boston Marathon, crossing the finish line with a time of 2:10:13. It was the second victory for the Connecticut native who would go on to claim two more consecutive marathons in “Beantown”. The long distance running master also won the NYC Marathon 4 straight years in a row from 1976-79.