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What is Point Shaving?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 23, 2024
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Point shaving is a form of match fixing that is common in many types of competitive sports. Essentially, the purpose of point shaving is to arrange for players on a team to intentionally not cover the established point spread that is projected for an upcoming game. This is accomplished by either failing to score points by failing to complete a play properly, or by scoring so many points that the point spread is exceeded. In both cases, the instigator of the point shaving scheme usually benefits from bets placed on the sporting event.

In order to entice players to participate in a point shaving scheme, a gambler may offer a wide range of incentives. Commonly, the incentive involves the promise of a large sum of money that is paid to each player who commits to the scheme. The payment terms often involve paying a percentage of the agreed upon sum prior to the game, with the remainder paid in full after the game is successfully fixed or thrown to the advantage of the gambler.

Money is not always the only incentive offered by gamblers. In some cases, offers of employment, property, or assistance of some type to family members of the players may be extended. It is also not unusual for point shaving to occur because a gambler has uncovered secrets about one or more players that they do not want revealed to the general public. The type of incentive offered always benefits the player in some manner.

Many sports have adopted a zero tolerance policy when it comes to point shaving. If a player is identified as a participant of a point shaving scheme, he or she is subject to a wide range of disciplinary measures. These include a period of probation or dismissal from the team. College sports players who engage in point shaving or often removed from the team and lose sports scholarships. Expulsion from the college is also a possibility. Players with professional teams often lose their contracts and may be blackballed from active play with any other team.

Players caught participating in a point shaving scheme may face legal repercussions as well. Along with civil suits filed by sports leagues and team clubs, criminal charges may also be a possibility. While the enticements offered by gamblers to players in organized sports are often very attractive, they usually are not enough to cover the losses incurred if the player’s activity is uncovered.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including Sports n' Hobbies, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By jmc88 — On Dec 30, 2011

@TreeMan - I don't know what the exact penalties are, and I'm sure a lot of it depends, of course, on exactly what you did and how many times. I know the NBA referee mentioned earlier had to spend a year or so in prison.

What I would be curious to see is the amount of point shaving that happens in college sports as compared to professional sports. I know it is hard to find evidence of it a lot of times, but I would be willing to guess if there was a way to find it, that it would be much more common in college sports. You hear a lot of stories about players receiving certain benefits and whatnot. I'm sure it would be easy for a persuasive gambler to convince some players to fix a game.

Besides the players being younger and, for the most part, having less common sense, they also don't get paid in college. I can see a lot of players looking at getting paid for fixing games as a way to make up for the fact that they aren't getting paid by the school. Does anyone else have a different opinion?

By TreeMan — On Dec 30, 2011

@matthewc23 - You brought up an interesting point there at the end. Point shaving doesn't just get you removed from a sport and blackballed. Fixing games is a federal offense if you get caught.

If you are one of the athletes, you might think you are only trying to help yourself, even if you are betting on your team to cover the spread, but in reality, you are affecting potentially thousands of people's money. There are a lot of people legally betting on any one game, and point shaving hurts a certain number of those people, so I think it is fair that you should be charged by the FBI for crimes.

I would be interested to know what the punishments are, though. Since this kind of thing isn't as common now, you don't hear a lot of stories about what happens to people who get caught.

By matthewc23 — On Dec 29, 2011

@Izzy78 - Actually, the Pete Rose story is off a little bit. A lot of people say he was betting on his team and throwing games and such, but that isn't exactly right. He did bet on baseball and has admitted it on several occasions, but he never bet against his team to beat the spread, so there was never any incentive for him to try to fix games. In other words, for him to win, he always needed his team to beat the other team by the widest margin possible.

The case I can think of in another sport, though, is the NBA. A while back there was a referee who was investigated by the FBI and was found to be betting on the same games he was officiating. They assumed he had to have been trying to fix the games in his favor. I don't know what ever happened to him afterwards, though. I know he retired, but I don't know if there were ever any charges against him.

By Izzy78 — On Dec 28, 2011

I have always heard this term used, but I never really knew what it meant, but this was a really good explanation of it.

Does anyone know of any famous athletes that have ever been proven guilty of point shaving or at least accused? The only person I can really think of would be Pete Rose from baseball. I know he was betting on games and ended up getting caught and was removed from baseball. Now there is the controversy over whether or not he should be allowed into the Hall of Fame.

I don't really watch a lot of other sports, though, to know if there have ever been any other high profile instances where players were point shaving.

By nextcorrea — On Dec 27, 2011

It seems like point shaving would be really hard and would take some acting skills on the part of the athlete. You have to mess up, but it can't look like you are messing up on purpose. You also have to mess up only to a certain degree. If you totally bomb people will be suspicious.

Modern athletics is extremely competitive and it is hard to both take advantage of opportunities and blow one when you need to. There is also a ton of sports media and all games get scrutinized endlessly by the 24 hour sports news cycle. So any instance of a player messing up will be talked about by hundreds of people in the know. The player really has to sell it if they are going to get away with point shaving.

By gravois — On Dec 27, 2011

Point shaving is really an unfortunate and unacceptable practice. It takes the competitive aspect out of the game and reduces athletic competition to just a playground for gamblers.

The one upside is that the practice is not nearly as common as it used to be. I won't say that athletes and gamblers are becoming more ethical, I'm sure that there are many who would be happy to participate in corruption. Luckily it is a lot harder to get away with it. Sports is big business for lots of people, not just gamblers. There are as many people trying to keep the game straight as there are looking to cheat.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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