NFL | Mar 14, 2022

Ranking The Biggest Sports Betting Scandals After Calvin Ridley Suspension

By Harry Bazley

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Calvin Ridley's recent suspension plastered his name across the press this week, but how does this scandal weigh up against the rest?

Atlanta Falcons star wide receiver, Calvin Ridley, bet on multiple games over a five-day stretch during his absence from team activities. Ridley was placed on the non-football illness list while he spent time focusing on his mental health. In that period, he reportedly placed a series of parlay bets that included the Falcons to win. After an investigation with various betting agencies, Ridley received a suspension for the entirety of the 2022 season.

Although this may be the latest scandal to hit headlines, Ridley joins a long list of sports betting violations made by players and staff alike. From college athletes helping shave-points for organised crime, to coaches and refs wagering on their own games, Ridley’s offence hardly compares to some of the stories we’ve heard. So without further ado, here are some of the biggest betting scandals in sports history.

5. Pete Rose

Pete Rose is the MLB’s all-time leading hitter with 4,256 to his name, alongside titles for the most career games and at-bats. He also holds another notable accolade - he is the only player since the Block Sox era to be banned from baseball and the Hall of Fame for gambling violations.

Rose managed the Cincinnati Reds for some time in the 1980s, and in 1989 reports emerged that Rose had bet on games involving the Reds.

MLB Commissioner Bart Giamatti put John Dowd on the case to investigate the rumours. A 225-page report was submitted that gave evidence for Rose’s involvements in illicit gambling that dated as far back as 1985. The report included testimonies from roughly 40 witnesses, including some bookmakers, and even had phone records to back up the accusations.

Rose admitted to making bets on other sports but denied any involvement in gambling on baseball. Despite his refutation of the claims, Rose accepted a lifetime ban from baseball in 1989.

Later, Rose did confess to betting on baseball games but said that he only ever wagered on the Reds to win. He has since appealed multiple times to have the ban lifted, but has failed to overturn the decision, keeping him out of the Hall of Fame even with his impressive records.

4. Boston College - Goodfella’s Scheme

In 1996, the head of the Boston College football team, Dan Henning, got word that some of his players were involved in betting against their own team to lose against Syracuse. Rumour has it that Henning found out before the game, but thought it best to wait until afterwards to say anything.

Allegedly, the same gangsters depicted in the 1990 big-screen classic, ‘Goodfella’s’, had orchestrated a plot to throw the game against Syracuse. Henry Hill, Rocco, Tony Perla and Paul Mazzei were the mobsters behind the fix.

The players were found to be shaving points for Rocco and the gang, when the conspiracy unravelled as Hill was arrested for drug trafficking charges and implicated in the Lufthansa Heist which occurred alongside the Syracuse fix. Hill was questioned on his frequent trips to Boston and offered to relay the whole story if his immunity was guaranteed.

During the trial, the government presented telephone records with evidence of extensive communications between the conspirators during the 1978–79 season. Nine games between December and February were found to have been affected by the scheme. ESPN even produced a series in 2014, titled ‘Playing for the Mob’ which starred Ray Liota as narrator and covered all of the events surrounding the point-shaving scandal.

3. CCNY 1950’s Scandal

No one ever hears about The City of College New York anymore, and there’s a good reason why.

CCNY is the only team in college basketball history to win both the NCAA Tournament and the NIT in the same season. A year later, in 1951, New York authorities found multiple games had been fixed in the record-breaking season. This investigation brought to light perhaps the most scandalous college points-shaving scandal in history, as they arrested three CCNY players for bribery charges.

As the investigation continued, New York District Attorney Frank Hogan arrested a total of 32 players from seven college basketball teams, four of which were in New York - CCNY, Manhattan, Long Island University and NYU.

Bradley, the team that lost both the NCAA and NIT finals to CCNY, was also found to have involvement in the plot to shave points. Prison sentences were given to multiple fixers and gamblers and the NCAA cancelled Kentucky’s 1952-53 season.

Following the headline-hitting scandal, CCNY turned their focus away from basketball, dropping the team to Division 3 and it hasn't moved since. A documentary following the events made its way onto HBO, titled “City Dump: The Story of the 1951 CCNY Basketball Scandal.”

2. Tim Donaghy’s Inside Game

Tim Donaghy officiated nearly 800 games over 14 seasons as an NBA referee, but it all came crashing down in 2007 when gambling-related payments were brought to light.

Donaghy was found to be involved in a scheme with two gamblers who wanted to wager on games he was officiating. The deal was a supply of information about upcoming games which would guide the bettors decisions and Donaghy would receive payment if the events followed as planned.

Although it was never strictly proven that Donaghy made calls in order to achieve a certain outcome - whether it be total points, fouls called or winning team - one can only assume he dabbled in rule-bending after he was found guilty of betting on his own games.

He has attempted to whistleblow the NBA on various scandals but has never given a name, simply stating that multiple other officials are influenced by the NBA to favour a certain outcome or NBA star in order to maximise ratings and profits. The league has of course denied all allegations of this kind.

Donaghy pleaded guilty a month after he received a suspension for federal charges of conspiring to engage in wire fraud and illegal interstate-transmission of wagering information. He was given 15-months in prison and a finne of $500,000.

1. The Curse of the Black Sox

Arguably the most infamous sports betting scandal of all time, The Curse of the Black Box saw betting violations outed on the biggest sports stage in America at the time - the MLB World Series.

These events forever ruined the legacy of star outfielder “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who was blocked from the Baseball Hall of Fame despite denying participation. His .356 career batting average is sorely missed from the prestigious HoF, as the third highest in MLB history. The scandal even earned such notoriety that John Sayles cemented the story in popular culture with the 1988 film ‘Eight Men out.’

Heading into the 1919 World Series, the Chicago White Sox were heavy favourites over the Cincinnati Reds, but by the first game the odds had come way down. This was a result of heavy bets made on the Reds by an illegal bookmaker which stirred rumours of a fix that later proved to be true.

Nearly a century later, the extent to which players underperformed to ensure defeat is still unclear, but there is no question that members of the White Sox took money from gamblers with a promise to throw the series.

Although Chicago had one of the highest payrolls in the league, first baseman Chuck Gandil led the team in a plan to take thousands of dollars tied to organised crime.

There were many teammates not involved in the plot, which put those who had promises to keep on edge as they clawed 2 games back from a 4-1 deficit. They lost the eighth game 10-5 which held up their end of the bargain, but many players were allegedly angry at those who abandoned the plan and jeopardised the payouts.

A grand jury in 2020 investigated and indicted eight players and five gamblers, including Joe Jackson in spite of batting an impressive .375 in the series and throwing out five runners alongside that.

In 2021, all eight players were acquitted of criminal charges, but they remained banned from professional baseball for life, given a number of confessions made during the investigations.

The scandal coined the phrase ‘The Curse of the Black Sox’ as the team failed to win another American League Pennant until 1959 and fell short of a World Series title until 2005.