NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 02: Varez Ward #1 of the Auburn Tigers attempts to control the ball against Jordan Theodore #1 of the Seton Hall Pirates at Prudential Center on December 2, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
Point shaving doesn't always involve the point spread. And in looking at Auburn's basketball record, investigators must be looking at something else as they probe the alleged misconduct.
If you are investigating point shaving — as the FBI reportedly is at Auburn — looking at the boxscores and rewinding the game tape may provide some clues or raise some suspicions. Revisiting the point spreads and other betting lines on the game may yield some patterns to support or refute those initial suspicions. Studying the team's record against-the-spread will add more fuel to the fire.
But in the case of this week's reported investigation at Auburn, the team went 12-3 against the spread in its final 15 games.
However, it's the betting handle — how much money got wagered on the game and by whom — that tells the final story of whether a player, coach or official has taken part in point shaving. In other words, has someone taken an active role in rigging the final score of a college or pro game?
And that's where the Auburn basketball point-shaving investigation will eventually end up.
It also spotlights the simple — albeit very politically incorrect — way to eliminate rigged games or the suspicion of them (which is just as damaging for the sport): legalize and regulate sports betting federally, not just in Nevada and other tiny pockets.
"These situations continue to arise because sports betting continues to be demonized and outlawed," said Mike Pickett of OddsShark.com. "It's legal in Nevada, it's legal in Canada and Europe and in 90 percent of the civilized world."
Bookmaking is a time-honored profession in Nevada, while a time-dishonored criminal behavior run by organized crime everywhere else. The truth is, Americans love to bet and if they're not in Vegas, they're betting on overseas sports betting websites or putting some money down with the local bookie.
And the local bookie might be Joe Schmo offering up action on your favorite teams or he might be tied to something more sinister.
Regardless, when it's legal, it's regulated. When it's regulated, the government gets involved with layers of consumer protections and big companies like Harrah's and Caesar's get involved to bring legitimacy and financial sturdiness to the picture.
Sportsbooks and betting exchanges can then share information with the sports leagues. If they see strange betting patterns on a certain team or from a certain bettor, they can shut down the betting and alert the league to investigate.
In England, betting exchange Betfair has triggered numerous investigations, passing along suspicious betting activity to sports leagues and tennis associations. If they suddenly see $100,000 bets on a huge underdog, a flag goes up.
If that underdog suddenly wins a game or a match, the investigation can kick in.
"Sportsbooks don't want to be victimized by cheaters and sports leagues don't want their games called into question or their athletes compromised by criminals and blackmailers," said Pickett. "So everyone works together to make point shaving and match fixing much harder to pull off."
So suspicions are raised immediately. In the case of the Auburn hoops investigation, it focuses on games over the course of a few months. In other investigations, the alleged point shaving only comes to light months and years later when someone blabs.
Legalize sports betting and force many local bookies out of business. All the betting action is gathered in computer databases where decades of fraud-identification programs keep track of every bettor and bet.
"If something suspicious happens, it won't go on for months or years. Computers will raise the flag of suspicion within a few games."
Opponents point to gambling as the problem and say legalizing it will bring bad guys to games to exploit athletes. According to Pickett, the fact that betting $10 on a basketball game remains illegal in much of America is the problem.
"Bad guys — and not all local bookies are bad guys, but some are — have been bookmaking forever," he said. "It's not like they haven't thought of it before and will only wise up if the government makes it legal."
Hopefully the latest allegations at Auburn prove false. In one of the allegedly fixed games, Ward played only 19 seconds before sitting down with an injury.
Was that part of the fix? One of the best players can't play, therefore the score should be lower so bettors put money on the under?
Regardless of the how, what and by whom questions, a regulated system where sportsbooks gather and analyze betting patterns would have a much better chance of identifying the suspicious behavior in the first place.
The current legal regime offers no way to discourage the behavior, other than imposing penalties after the fact. Bad guys take that risk as part of doing business and players are typically the victims, falling into debt or being threatened by the bad guys.