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AU’s Ward under investigation for alleged point-shaving scheme

Published: March 9, 2012 | 10:51 am
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AUBURN — Federal au­thorities are investigating Au­burn point guard Varez Ward for his role in a possible point-shaving scheme.

The 2007 Jeff Davis High graduate was suspended Feb. 25 for what coach Tony Barbee described as a violation of team rules. According to a Ya­hoo! Sports report, a teammate raised concerns about a scheme while talking with an assistant coaching in late Feb­ruary.

That prompted immediate action from the school.

“Auburn officials were made aware of a rumors re­garding an allegation two weeks ago and immediately re­ported it to the FBI, the NCAA and the (Southeastern Confer­ence),” the school said in a statement. “Because of the na­ture of the allegation, Auburn is not in a position to make any further comment on the situation.”

Ward and fellow guard Chris Denson were suspend­ed hours before the Tigers’ home game against Arkan­sas two weeks ago. Denson was reinstated a few days later after missing only one game.

Investigators focused, at least initially, on a pair of games played during the past two months. In a Jan. 25 game at Arkansas, Ward played only one minute after coming up lame with what was described as a quad­riceps injury.

Auburn lost by three points that night. Arkansas was favored by 9.5.

In a Feb. 7 loss to Alaba­ma, Ward scored three points and committed a team-high six turnovers in 17 minutes. The Crimson Tide, which entered the game 2-4 on the road and without sus­pended forward Tony Mitch­ell, won by 18 points after opening as a 5.5-point favor­ite.

In places where betting is legal, like Nevada, bettors rarely wager on which team will win. They instead are re­quired to bet on an estimated margin of victory as de­termined by oddsmakers.

That estimated margin of victory is called a “line.”

As bettors wager money, the line fluctuates based on their habits. If a large per­centage of the betting popu­lation favors a particular out­come, the line moves toward that outcome.

NCAA Director of En­forcement Julie Roe Lach, in an interview last spring, said her organization occasionally confers with Las Vegas in­siders when those insiders identify unusual betting pat­terns associated with inter­collegiate events. She said red flags typically are raised if a betting line swings more than three points from the opening line.

The Auburn games of in­terest to investigators expe­rienced a one-point swing.

Still, the NCAA said Thursday that it’s “very con­cerned” about the point-shav­ing allegations.

“The NCAA takes any alle­gation of point shaving very seriously because sports wa­gering threatens two of our core principles — the well-being of student-athletes and the very integrity of intercol­legiate sport,” the NCAA said in a statement. “As alle­gations of point shaving, if proven, are also potential federal crimes, the NCAA will defer action until any process with the FBI has concluded.”

Basketball is an ideal tar­get for unscrupulous bettors in search of a edge, said Da­vid G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Re­search at University of Ne­vada, Las Vegas. While only a small percentage of foot­ball players have the ability to profoundly affect a game’s outcome, a series of subtle behaviors can have a signifi­cant effect on the court.

“If the star quarterback throws an interception at the end of the game, everyone sees that,” Schwartz said. “With a basketball player, it can be something as simple as a turnover or a missed free throw or a bad shot. Fans aren’t booing about that. Almost nobody notices that kind of thing.”

In a point-shaving scheme, unscrupulous bettors collude with an important member of the team to manipulate the game’s outcome. The player will operate in ways that assure the unscrupulous bettors are satisfied with the outcome — and in position to cash sizeable bets.

Players earn a reward, typically an agreed-upon sum of money, for their role in the scheme.

“The players know it’s wrong to play a role in their team losing, but these people entice the players by saying their team doesn’t have to lose,” Schwartz said. “They say it’s only about the spread.”

Only a handful of point-shaving cases have been un­earthed over the past 30 years. In fact, the NCAA hasn’t sanctioned a program for that infraction since Ken­tucky earned a post-season ban in all sports 60 years ago.

The University of San Die­go, though, currently is fac­ing the possibility of major sanctions after its point guard, a former player and an assistant coach were in­dicted on federal charges of accepting bribes.

Montgomery attorney Don Jackson said it’s unlikely that Auburn will face repercus­sions associated with Ward’s case. The fact that university administrators contacted au­thorities immediately, he said, demonstrates the Ti­gers’ commitment to compli­ance.

“Auburn handled this ex­actly the way it should have,” said Jackson, who fre­quently deals with the NCAA. “There’s no incentive for a school to look the other way or encourage this sort of thing. It compromises the competitive integrity of sports, and once that hap­pens and fans can’t trust your sports, you lose butts from the seats.”

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