Ranking the 10 Most Shocking Scandals in College Basketball History
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Much to the chagrin of the NCAA, college basketball is a giant moneymaking corporation that has inevitably seen its fair share of scandals.
As recently as this past season, college basketball had to bury its collective head in shame after video surfaced of Rutgers’ former coach Mike Rice verbally abusing and physically harassing his players. As embarrassing as that case was for Rutgers, it pales in comparison to some of college basketball’s most notorious scandals, which include various point-shaving schemes and even a murder.
In one form or another, money, power or success played a role in the majority of the sport's most infamous scandals. Let’s revisit the 10 most shocking disgraces in college basketball history.
10. Derrick Rose's SAT Scam
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In his one season at Memphis, Rose guided the Tigers to a school-record 38 wins and an appearance in the national title game against Kansas.
Unfortunately, those wins and records were later vacated after it was determined that Rose had only been accepted into Memphis after having someone else take his SAT. According to an NCAA infractions report, Rose had failed the ACT three times and had someone else take the test in Detroit, not his native Chicago.
Although it claims to have done its due diligence regarding the investigation of Rose, Memphis was also punished for providing travel accommodations for Rose’s brother, Reggie.
Memphis was hit with a three-year probation but evaded any scholarship loss or postseason ban. Josh Pastner took over as the head coach as John Calipari moved on to coach Kentucky the next season.
9. Minnesota's Academic Fraud
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Minnesota enjoyed substantial success under coach Clem Haskins in the mid-1990s, highlighted by a Final Four appearance in 1997.
Numerous wins and NCAA tournament appearances dating back to 1994 were all wiped away though, when in 1999, a report from the Pioneer Press stated that the Gophers’ players were involved in a massive academic fraud scandal.
Specifically, adviser Jan Gangelhoff claimed she wrote more than 400 pieces of academic work for around 20 Gophers players throughout the '90s. Haskins eventually admitted to investigators that he had paid Gangelhoff $3,000 for her services.
Haskins was bought out of his contract, later sued by UM for lying about his involvement, and was hit with a seven-year “show cause” penalty, which essentially banned him from coaching until 2007. The Gophers self-administered a postseason ban a year later to go along with numerous scholarship reductions and a four-year probation.
8. Northwestern's Point-Shaving Plot
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Just days before the 1998 Final Four, Northwestern, known for its academic prowess far more than its athletic acumen, became associated with a shameful point-shaving scandal.
Two former starters for the Wildcats, Kenneth Dion Lee and Dewey Williams (pictured above), were charged with fixing three games during the 1994-95 season. The two were charged with point shaving while they were connected with two other men who paid the players for their attempts at fixing the games. That season the Wildcats finished 5-22.
Both players spent brief time in prison.
Later that year, the Wildcats' football program came under scrutiny after four other football players were charged with perjury in regards to betting on their own games during the 1994 season.
7. Boston College's Point-Shaving Scheme
In a point-shaving scandal that significantly trumps the arrangement at Northwestern, four Boston College players became embroiled in a betting scheme conceived by gamblers Henry Hill, brothers Rocco and Tony Perla, and Paul Mazzei. Some had connections to various upper-level gambling circles and some were connected to the mob.
Ultimately, BC players Rick Kuhn, Jim Sweeney, Joe Streater and eventually leading-scorer Ernie Cobb were all in on it. As the plan went, each player was to be paid $2,500 for each game the Eagles successfully failed to cover the spread throughout various pre-determined games in the 1978-79 season.
In essence, the gambling side would bank on Boston College’s ability to win, but to win by less than the betting line predicted. In total, the group had fixed or attempted to fix nine Boston College games.
After both parties made substantial gains, Hill was eventually arrested and became a government informant in hopes of immunity. Thanks to him, we have this piece from Sports Illustrated in 1981.
Kuhn, the point man on the BC side, was sentenced to a 10-year prison sentence.
6. St. Bonaventure's Transfer Student
On the surface, the 2003 scandal at St. Bonaventure involving ineligible transfer student Jamil Terrell doesn’t seem so bad.
He had only attained a welding certificate from Coastal Georgia Community College—insufficient academic achievement to permit a transfer from junior college—but played parts of the season, anyway. Seems harmless enough.
But St. Bonaventure cleaned house by firing its basketball coach Jan van Breda Kolff and accepting the resignations of its AD, an assistant coach and the school president, after it was determined that all four knowingly allowed Terrell to play even if he hadn’t met eligibility requirements.
The school also vacated six A-10 victories, forfeited that year’s postseason and elected not to play in the final two games of the season, which cost the school more than $100,000 in fines.
As if that wasn’t enough, Bill Swan, the chairman for the board of trustees and a lifelong Bonnie, took his own life later that year in the face of mounting criticism from school supporters and the media.
The school was placed on probation for three years, cited for lack of institutional control and suffered a few scholarship losses, but in 2012, St Bonaventure, the small but proud basketball school, returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time.
5. Georgia's Academic Fraud
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Around the same time (March of 2003) as the St. Bonaventure scandal, news broke that the University of Georgia was dealing with its own case of oversight.
More specifically, Jim Harrick Jr., the coach’s son, had taught a basketball-related class and given falsified grades to Bulldogs players Chris Daniels, Rashad Wright and Tony Cole. University officials found that Harrick Jr. had given each A’s even though all three hadn’t regularly attended class.
The fallout from the controversy was severe. The elder Harrick eventually resigned while the younger one was suspended and then didn’t return to Georgia. The Bulldogs also removed themselves from postseason play, including the SEC tournament and a likely NCAA tournament bid. The Bulldogs were 19-8 and ranked 25th in the country at the time.
Other penalties included a probationary period of four years and a loss of one scholarship per year for three seasons.
4. Tulane's Point-Shaving Scam
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A point-shaving scandal involving gambling, drugs and thousands of dollars engulfed Tulane’s basketball program in 1985, forcing the president to drop the sport entirely from its athletic program.
Five players, including future NBA center John “Hot Rod” Williams (above) became consumed in the plot to fix two games—one against Southern Mississippi, the other against Memphis State.
Perhaps more damning than the players’ bribery scheme, it was determined that Ned Fowler, then the head coach of the Green Wave, had paid players throughout the season, a clear violation of NCAA conduct. According to the Los Angeles Times, Williams had received $100 dollars a week, but he’d also received substantial cash during his recruitment.
Fowler, two assistants and the school’s athletic director all resigned. The basketball program was eventually reinstated for the 1990-91 season.
3. Chris Webber's Booster Controversy
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The Fab Five were a transcendent group of heralded freshmen at Michigan, who reached back-to-back national championship games in 1992 and 1993; however a booster’s improprieties permanently tarnished their legacy.
Ed Martin, now deceased, paid Webber and a number of other future NBA players significant amounts of money (the total is still disputed, but Webber claims it was around $40,000), which the players accepted—a clear violation of NCAA policy.
The fallout from the case resulted in a two-year postseason ban, a four-year probationary period, but maybe most significantly, a complete disassociation between the school and the Fab Five. All banners were removed. All records were vacated.
This past season marked a reunion of sorts as all five members were in Atlanta for Michigan’s surprising Final Four run.
1950's Point-Shaving Scandal
No college point shaving scam has ever been as widespread as what transpired in the early 1950s.
Seven schools, including hallowed programs such as Kentucky and City College of New York (the only team to ever win the NIT and NCAA tournaments in the same year), and 32 players were implicated in the extensive scheme.
Gamblers bribed dozens of players to shave points, not throw games, a distinction that perhaps salvages some of the players’ pride. In total, the scam involved 86 games, spanning from 1947 to 1950.
Two Kentucky players, guard Ralph Beard and center Alex Groza, were embroiled in the scheme and had their promising NBA careers derailed after the league banned the two for life in 1952. As the final hammer, the NCAA suspended the entire Kentucky basketball program for the 1952-53 season.
1. Baylor's Tragedy
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Carlton Dotson and Patrick Dennehy, two Baylor transfer players, will forever be linked to one of the most horrific college sport scandals in history.
In July of 2003, Dotson was charged with murdering his one-time roommate Dennehy, and authorities later found Dennehy’s decomposed body a few miles away from Baylor’s campus. He had been shot twice above the right ear. Dotson reportedly told FBI agents in Maryland that it was in self-defense.
A university probe eventually unveiled even more appalling revelations within the basketball program. Then coach Dave Bliss, it was revealed, had paid for expenses for Dennehy and another player. The investigation also showed a number of improperly handled drug reports amongst the program.
Most egregious though, was that an assistant coach, Abar Rouse, had secretly recorded tape of Bliss coaching his players how to lie to investigators. Bliss told his players to claim that Dennehy was only paying for school as a result of dealing drugs, when in reality, Bliss was helping to pay his tuition.
All told, Bliss and Baylor’s AD resigned. The program was put on probation by the NCAA until 2010, faced scholarship reductions, and the school self-imposed a postseason ban for the 2003-04 season.
Dotson is serving a 35-year prison sentence.