College basketball seems to have the same ugly problem every decade or so, when the integrity of its games are brought into question by gambling allegations.
It happened in the 1950s, when the City College of New York was involved in a scandal that eventually reached seven schools and 32 players. It happened in the 1960s, with the arrests of 37 players from 22 colleges.
It happened in the 1970s, when gangster Henry Hill of Goodfellas fame orchestrated Boston College's game-fixing scheme. It also happened in the 1980s, when Tulane University players engaged in shenanigans, and in the 1990s, when players at Arizona State and Northwestern did likewise.
Now, on the eve of college basketball's showcase event — the NCAA tournament, aka "The Big Dance" — officials might be on the verge of another black eye, courtesy of Auburn University. According to Yahoo Sports, suspended guard Varez Ward is under investigation by the FBI in an ongoing point-shaving probe.
"Auburn officials were made aware of a rumor regarding an allegation two weeks ago and immediately reported it to the FBI, the NCAA and the SEC," Auburn officials said in a statement.
Point-shaving, a federal crime, is when players attempt to curb their team's point production in a game. They do this in return for financial compensation from gamblers, whose bets are based on each game's margin of victory, not winners or losers.
"We are very concerned by the point-shaving allegations involving Auburn University men's basketball program and have been in contact with the school and the FBI since the issue arose in February," the NCAA said in a statement. "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."
According to Yahoo Sports, at least two games have been reviewed for irregularities. In a Feb. 7 loss to Alabama, Ward committed six turnovers in 17 minutes; in the other 26 games he played this season, he averaged 2.7 turnovers in 29 minutes per game. In the Jan. 25 loss to Arkansas, Ward had a turnover and fell to the floor 19 seconds after entering the game. He remained down for more than a minute before limping off and not returning, leaving Auburn shorthanded in the backcourt.
A Montgomery, Ala., native, Ward was suspended prior to a Feb. 25 game and has not been with the team since.
The NCAA and federal investigators have a challenging task in detecting point-shaving, which is a major concern in college sports. Schemes most often involve players on the team expected to win, so they can play hard 99.9 percent of the game and not arouse suspicion. A missed free throw here, a turnover there, and easing up on defense a little bit at crucial moments, can turn a would-be 14-point victory into the gamblers' desired 8-point margin.
Take a college athlete who might be hard up for money and give him a chance to make a few thousand dollars without throwing games. History has shown that it's an offer some players can't refuse. Human nature being what it is, some future players will undoubtedly have the same trouble.