This has been a rollercoaster ride of a college basketball season for all the wrong reasons. Despite Kentucky’s brilliance, Michigan State’s unlikely success and Syracuse’s impressive perseverance – the storylines that have captured the headlines this year have been almost entirely negative.
On Thursday, things went from bad to worse.
Aside from the Bernie Fine situation, news of Auburn point guard Varez Ward being under federal investigation for point-shaving is worse than everything that’s happened before. Combined.
Obviously, the Fine situation is its own special breed of horrible given the molestation charges that were tossed around, but this (if proven true) is far more damaging to college basketball as a whole than 10 kids from Syracuse purportedly testing positive for a banned substance over an 11-year span or the lack of discipline at UCLA.
This is a real scandal.
Via Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports:
Three sources with knowledge of the case said the FBI has been investigating Ward since late February after he and guard Chris Denson were suspended by the Tigers prior to a Feb. 25 home game against Arkansas. Two sources said Denson was also questioned as part of the point-shaving investigation, but he was cleared of any wrongdoing and returned to the team after sitting out the loss to the Razorbacks. The sources said additional players have been questioned in the case about whether Ward – who has not been with the team since being suspended – attempted to enlist them in a possible scheme. The sources said at least two games are under scrutiny: a 68-50 loss to Alabama on Feb. 7 and a 56-53 loss to Arkansas on Jan. 25.
Point-shaving, unlike players getting special benefits while schools turn a blind eye or ignoring internal drug testing policies, erodes the integrity of an athletic contest. Whereas getting people and keeping people in schools via shady methods ruins the legitimacy of the recruiting process, it doesn’t actually mean anything for the game of basketball. Once you step on the court and tip things off, all things are equal. Everyone is playing, everyone is giving it their all, and the better team wins. That’s the end of it.
This is a whole different type of scandal, though. Point-shaving is someone purposely trying to alter the way the game would go under normal circumstances. It completely kills the point of playing in the first place. It’s 10 times worse than just about any other form of violation a given school could encounter.
It remains to be seen what will come of this, but it’s hard to imagine that Yahoo! Sports and Robinson would proceed with this story if they didn’t have a legitimate reason to believe that it's true.
Heading into inarguably the best time of the year to be a college hoops fan, this is obviously a bummer in every possible way.