Posted by Matt Norlander
Thrown games in an effort to pay players and distribute drugs. That’s what the first week of college basketball’s offseason has given us.
The details of the San Diego basketball bribery case are so ridiculous and disconcerting I couldn’t fault you if it made you turn your back on the sport. You won’t do that, but if you did, I’d understand.
Three years removed from a first-round upset win over Connecticut in the NCAA tournament, and now look at San Diego. Mired in a scandal that will taint its name for a long, long time.
This level of cheating in college basketball is unnerving, but I don’t believe it’s common. I don’t believe there are multiple programs being affected and influenced and tainted by cheaters, guys who are handcuffed by people with money and effectively forcing them to throw games. The cynics can burst out of their closets any time something like this happens (and while it happens too much, it still doesn’t happen all that much, if you get me) and hiss and moan and berate intercollegiate athletics. They deserve that fleeting right.
Pay the players! You get what you deserve! College sports is rigged! The whole system is corrupt!
It’s really not, though. Think about it. You believe what happened with San Diego is a spreading virus in college basketball, even to smaller degree? Unlikely. This case involved 10 people. Ten! It took 10 idiots to try and pull this scheme off, still it was doomed from the start. The FBI’s investigation into San Diego basketball has been going on for a year, which is just a little bit shorter time than when the first Toreros game was thrown in February of 2010.
The deed was done and investigators got a sniff almost immediately.
The charges against Torero players Brandon Johnson (right), San Diego’s all-time leader in points and assists, and Brandon Dowd, as well as former assistant coach Thaddeus Brown, read like something out of a television show. “Conspiracy to commit sports bribery, operate an illegal sports bookmaking service and distribute marijuana,” the indictment reads.
But they were only a small part of an overarching drug scheme. The basketball players' involvement in this drives our reactions, but the investigation didn't even begin with intentions of bringing down a basketball program. It was about the drugs. The nicknames for the men involved in this -- Shazy, Bird, Slick Rick, Guyline, Weenie -- are all too good to be true. When you're dealing with code names, it goes way deeper than merely fixing West Coast Conference basketball games.
The selling of marijuana by Steven Warda Goria and Richard Francis Garma -- both of whom filed for bankruptcy in 2009 -- is the crux of this investigation. It's not about fixing games; that's just bolstering the case against these men. I mean, Goria needed a SWAT team outside of his house for two hours before he surrendered Monday morning. Desperation. That’s what this was. And that’s why everyone’s been caught.
You think this is commonplace? Not a chance. Not like this. Shaving points and fixing games is always seedy, but San Diego is something superior in outlier status.
What we don’t know: how much money was bet on affected games, and which games were thrown. The indictment states it did happen in February of last year. Ballin’ is a Habit has already tried to deduce which game was it. There could be more outcomes that were rigged, but we don't know for a fact that's the case ... yet.
From the NCAA’s official response:
“As this news demonstrates, the threat is real and no campus is immune. From our own research, we know that 1.6 percent of Division I men's basketball student-athletes have reported being asked to affect the outcome of the game. While this number may be considered low by some, any incident is too many.”
It's despicable, and it smears college basketball, but it's highly unlikely this is widespread. Get angry, get cynical, but don't think this is something that's peppered throughout the sport. Thank goodness, in a way, this happened at San Diego and not a major-conference school. Imagine the real uproar that would've been birthed from that. Then again, it's not likely such transgressions have a chance of happening at those kinds of schools. The players with the best chances at changing outcomes of BCS-conference games stand to eventually make much more money playing professionally, so what's the point in risking everything?
On record, we've now had seven point-shaving scandals in 60 years: City College of New York (1951); Boston College (1979); Tulane (1985); Arizona State (1994); Northwestern (1995); Toledo (2008); and now San Diego.
The San Diego case, which has close linear proximity to what Toledo got caught for in 2008 in concerning, but more cases that get busted, the less likely this is to occur. And if you think San Diego's problems were big, look at what CCNY was tied up in 60 years ago.
One thrown game is one way too many. But I have to believe the majority of the sport is on the up and up. There's too much to lose and not enough money to be made, even if players are starving for cash, the dangers and prison time stand to be too drastic. Vegas eyes its lines and team behavior like a mother bee at her hive. Be encouraged by the fact this was snuffed out. Be encouraged that the FBI and Las Vegas put millions of dollars of labor every year into keeping tabs on college sports, aiming to keep it clean.
The NCAA can't be expected to police itself in this matter. It can only hand out the punishments after the leg work's been done, in most cases. While this makes men’s college basketball look horrible, throwing games isn't as rampant as one might think because it's getting snuffed out at places like Toledo and San Diego.Photo: AP