What Is Point Shaving in Basketball?

2016 NBA Finals Game Seven
 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images Sport

Point-shaving schemes have been around since the advent of point spreads, and they will surely continue to rear their ugly heads in the future.

Point shaving is the highly illegal act of purposefully holding down the score of a sporting event, in order to impact who will win bets against a point spread. Unlike other forms of sports betting, spread betting invariably motivates point shaving. Point shaving is when athletes conspire with gamblers to ensure a team won’t cover a given point spread.

Players involved in a point-shaving scheme might purposefully miss shots or create turnovers in an attempt to keep the final score within the desired margin. Basketball has been the most common target for point-shaving schemes because points are scored frequently and it takes only a small number of players to impact the game. Players may not feel that they are not being asked to throw the game, but to just harmlessly manipulate the point spread, an easy way to earn a few thousand dollars. For example, if a basketball team is favored by 16 points, the player or players in on the fix would play in such a manner to make sure they won, but by less than 16 points. 

Examples of Point Shaving 

Here are a few notable point-shaving scandals, and before you get any crazy ideas of your own, know that perpetrating one is a federal crime.

CCNY 1951

The most infamous point shaving incident in college basketball history was the 1951 scandal that involved numerous players from then-national power City College of New York. The so-called CCNY scandal resulted in the arrests of dozens of players at several schools, including LIU, NYU, Kentucky, Bradley, Manhattan College and Toledo.

In 1950, CCNY won both the NIT and NCAA tournaments, something no other team has done in the history of basketball. However, in 1951, 3-star CCNY players were arrested for manipulating point spreads during that historic season. Eventually, dozens more were brought up on charges, and organized crime was implicated. Overall, the scandal engrossed seven different schools and affected the scores of 86 games. It permanently removed CCNY as a national basketball power and had a detrimental effect on New York City college basketball for decades to come.

The CCNY Scandal got a major pop-culture shout-out in a 2004 episode of The Sopranos when Bobby Baccala credited a recently-deceased mob boss as the inventor of point-shaving.

NBA 2005-2007

Sometimes it's not the players--basketball referees also make ideal participants for point-shaving schemes.

In 2007 NBA referee and gambling addict Tim Donaghy and high-school friends Jimmy Battista and Tommy Martino began a point-shaving scheme in which Donaghy would use his inside knowledge as an NBA official to provide picks for betting. Battista was a professional gambler who placed the bets while Martino acted as the middleman. According to Battista, Donaghy initially received $2,000 per correct pick, and after starting 6-0, his rate went up to $5,000 per correct pick. The arrangement took place over the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons.

Eventually, the betting community and the federal authorities caught wind that Donaghy was betting on and possibly influencing NBA games. While Donaghy, Martino, and Battista claim they didn’t conspire to influence point spreads, an analysis of all the games Donaghy officiated during that time found statistical anomalies along with irregular betting patterns. Donaghy would plead guilty to federal conspiracy charges and was sentenced to 15 months in prison. Battista was also sentenced to 15 months while Martino received one year.