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  • Cheating the Spread: Gamblers, Point Shavers, and Game Fixers in College Football and Basketball by Albert J. Figone
  • Murry Nelson
Figone, Albert J. Cheating the Spread: Gamblers, Point Shavers, and Game Fixers in College Football and Basketball. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012. Pp. ix+216. Introduction, bibliography, notes, and index. $80.00 hc, $21.95 pb.

For more than twenty-five years Al Figone has been intrigued and disheartened by the ubiquitous presence of gambling in college sports and, in this volume, he combines the limited research on that topic with his own extensive efforts in order to produce a well-presented and sad study of sports in college basketball and football over the past seventy-five years. Starting with early instances of gambling on college basketball in the late 1920s and 1930s, the book swiftly jumps to the1940s, which led to what he terms "the Golden Age of Gambling" in the immediate post-World War II era.

Most of the text addresses college basketball, with the two largely football chapters stretching from the 1890s to the early 1960s and then in the period from 1990 to 2010. The former chapter devotes much of its attention to the Bear Bryant-Wally Butts case of 1962 that resulted in a large payout by the Saturday Evening Post, after being sued by Butts for libel. The latter chapter focuses on a few scandals of that more recent twenty-year period, most prominently at Northwestern and Boston College.

Figone has drawn largely from archives, newspaper, and popular magazine sources because the research on this topic of gambling in college sports is thin; he uses the acknowledged best of those research sources such as Stanley Cohen's The Game They Played (1977), David Porter's Fixed: How Goodfellas Bought Boston College Basketball (2000), and Charley Rosen's Scandals of '51; How the Gamblers Almost Killed College Basketball (1999), although the latter work often conflates fact and fiction, at times. Figone also examines the history of gambling in the U.S., generally, and most histories of collegiate sports that are relevant to the topic.

Chapters trace various periods with focused case studies of the most egregious examples of gambling incidents in college sports. The 1951 basketball scandals are retold well, as are the 1961 incidents with Jack Molinas as a central character. Through all of this, Figone interjects his views of how so much could have been ameliorated or prevented if officials had made even the least effort to pursue clear signs of gambling and gamblers. These signs were more than just quaint allusions but explicit claims of dumping or point shaving, given both orally and in writing by team members, trainers, or assistant coaches. The players who participated in these gambling enterprises are never seen as less than guilty, but the greater shame is heaped on those officials who looked the other way. Coaches, athletic directors, college presidents all sought to ignore or cover up what they saw as minor transgressions, either because they wished to keep the revenue from big-time sports continuing unabated or they did not wish to taint the reputation of their institutions, or both.

One major change that Figone sees that bodes ill for this topic is that in earlier years, gambling on campuses was not nearly as ubiquitous as today and the acceptance of gambling as recreational enterprise, nationally, makes this even more threatening. No longer is [End Page 497] gambling just a Las Vegas phenomenon; in 2012 Pennsylvania was the second largest state revenue producers from gambling, and many states have found ways to justify state-sponsored gambling. The message is clear to students and student athletes: gambling is just part of the culture and why shouldn't everyone get a piece of the action? After all, student athletes see recruitment violations used to get them into some colleges and see little difference between some of those violations and the opportunities to get a few extra dollars on their talents while in college. Figone ends the book on a pessimistic note, "In presenting lucrative, professional entertainment to an insatiable public, college athletic programs have created a mandate to win at all costs. The highest...


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