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Point-fixing scandal rocks college game


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 1999

There was an innocence, at least on the surface, to college basketball in the 1940s. Yes, there was gambling on it, but except for a couple of minor incidents the game itself seemed untainted.

On Jan. 17, 1951, it all changed.

Two co-captains of Manhattan College's 1949-50 team were arrested and charged with bribery and conspiracy in a point-fixing scandal.

It was only the beginning.

Charlie Rosen, author of Barney Polan's Game, a novel about the scandal, said in a National Public Radio interview that the gambling was this blatant: If a team that was supposed to be losing was winning, gamblers would go to the basket where the players were warming up at halftime and, as a reminder, wave $20 bills at them.

Madison Square Garden was the mecca of college basketball then. While the professional New York Knickerbockers, which the Garden owned, played to less-than-capacity crowds in a 5,000-seat armory, the Garden was packed for college doubleheaders, usually local schools such as St. John's, CCNY, Manhattan, Long Island University, New York University and Fordham.

The Garden also attracted some of the nation's top teams such as Bradley, Kansas, Utah and Kentucky. It was where every coach, every team wanted to be invited. Playing the Garden was, to basketball, what playing the Palace was to vaudeville.

When the scandal broke, Adolph Rupp, the Kentucky coach, blamed it on New York City gamblers. "They couldn't touch my boys with a 10-foot pole," he said. He was wrong. Three players from the Wildcats' 1949 championship team were involved. Kentucky suspended its basketball program for a year.

A thousand dollars could buy a lot in 1951 and key players, often from poor families, were offered that and more to alter the outcome of games -- not necessarily to intentionally lose, just to make sure they didn't win by too wide a margin, or lose by more than expected. A missed shot, a bad play on defense, an errant pass here, that would be enough.

Junius Kellogg was a 6-foot-10 sophomore center attending Manhattan College under both the G.I. Bill and a basketball scholarship. A week before the Jan. 16, 1951, game against DePaul at the Garden, Henry Poppe and John Burns, co-captains of the 1950 Manhattan team (they had graduated) offered Kellogg $1,000 to make sure the Jaspers, three-point underdogs, lost by five or six points.

They told him he'd be paid after the game.

He told them to get lost.

After a restless night, Kellogg told coach Ken Norton of the offer. North sent him to U.S. District Attorney Frank Hogan.

Manhattan won 62-59, no thanks to Kellogg. He was so nervous, Norton benched him early.

At 3 a.m. on Jan. 17, Poppe and Burns were arrested. Within a few hours, five gamblers were as well. They implicated others.

Ultimately, 32 players from seven colleges would admit to accepting bribes to fix 86 games in 17 states from 1947-50. Seven of the players had been on the CCNY team that swept the NCAA and NIT championships in 1950.

Twenty players and 14 gamblers were convicted.

Athletic directors blamed the Garden because of the wide-open betting that had gone on. Some colleges dropped or suspended basketball, others limited home games to campus gyms.

The scandal also paved the the way for the popularity of the pro game.

-- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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