Ex-Northwestern Players Indicted
CHICAGO (AP) _ On the eve of college basketball’s showcase event, the sport was rocked again Thursday by a point-shaving scandal, this time at Northwestern _ a school known more for brains than betting lines.
Federal indictments charged former Wildcat players Kenneth Dion Lee and Dewey Williams _ both starters at the time _ and two others with fixing the outcome of three basketball games during the 1994-95 season.
A former Wildcat football player was accused in a separate indictment of running a bookmaking operation on the Northwestern campus.
It was the latest in a string of gambling schemes involving college basketball players since the point-shaving scandal of 1951, which involved schools such as Kentucky, CCNY and NYU. And it came when the spotlight on college basketball was brightest _ two days before the Final Four in San Antonio.
``It’s a bomb ready to explode. It can happen to anybody,″ Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Thursday from San Antonio. ``You wouldn’t even know about it until it happened.″
And it happened at Northwestern, a private school proud of academic excellence.
Other recent point-shaving scandals hit Arizona State and Tulane. Two years ago, 13 Boston College football players were suspended for betting on college and pro football, and major league baseball games.
``Unfortunately, student-athletes are vulnerable to the temptations and pressures associated with gambling and greed,″ U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar said. ``That, however, does not condone unlawful conduct.″
``We should not be surprised this is occurring,″ said Cedric Dempsey, executive director of the NCAA. ``Gambling is as big an addiction on our campuses as alcohol, and it reflects what is going on in our society.″
Northwestern is known more for academic success than sports power. Although the Wildcats made the Rose Bowl as Big Ten football champions three seasons ago, they rarely have produced winning basketball teams, although the 1993-94 club went to the NIT.
Lee and Williams were charged with point-shaving, while Kevin Pendergast and Brian Irving were charged with conspiring to fix the outcome of three games in the ’94-95 season _ at home against Wisconsin and Penn State, and on the road against Michigan.
Pendergast is a former kicker at Notre Dame who led the Irish in scoring in 1993, said Notre Dame sports information director John Heisler.
The Wildcats lost each game by at least 14 points and failed to cover the point spread against the Badgers and Nittany Lions. Northwestern finished the season 5-22 under coach Ricky Byrdsong.
Lee averaged 12 points and Williams 8.1 that season, but each averaged just 6.3 points in the three games involved in the indictment, including a 2-point total for Lee against Penn State.
Lee, a senior guard, was suspended by the school for six games during the ’94-95 season for betting on football games not involving Northwestern, prosecutors said. They charged that it was only weeks after his return to the team that he began the conspiracy to shave points.
``We were all shocked that after his suspension for gambling he is involved in point shaving,″ Lassar said.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said Northwestern’s investigation of Lee that led to the suspension found no evidence of point shaving.
``The brazenness of the alleged actions after the (suspension) ... is hard for me to understand,″ Delany said in New York, where conference foes Minnesota and Penn State played for the NIT title.
Prosecutors said a reserve basketball player, Matthew Purdy, also agreed to participate in the scheme and was named as an unindicted co-consipirator.
Pendergast and Irving also were charged with conspiring to fix the games.
Former football player Brian Ballerini was charged with accepting bets on sporting events from other Northwestern athletes, including Lee. The charges against Ballerini include an allegation that he threatened Lee would be harmed if he did not pay a gambling debt.
None of those named in the indictment were available for comment. Prosecutors said they believed Lee lived in Louisville, Ky., and Williams in Chicago, but they did not know what they do for a living.
Rick Taylor, Northwestern’s athletic director, said the school learned early Thursday of the point-shaving allegations.
At a news conference with the U.S. attorney, Taylor said point-shaving ``purely and simply is betrayal. Betrayal of self, teammate, family, coaches, university and the very game itself.″
William Saum, an NCAA gambling specialist, said he believes illegal sports betting is a problem ``on virtually every college campus in America.″
Saum said Northwestern acted swiftly and properly when it first learned of the possibility of illegal gambling. He said no sanctions were planned against the university.
Lassar said the Northwestern investigation began when university officials turned over results of their own investigation into campus gambling by student athletes. He said the university had cooperated fully.
Lassar said Ballerini and Lee were cooperating with prosecutors and were expected to plead guilty.
The games in question occurred on Feb. 15, Feb. 22 and March 1, 1995. In the first game, in which Wisconsin was favored by 13 1/2 points, the Badgers beat Northwestern 70-56 after trailing 28-21 at the half.
In the next game, Penn State was favored by 14 points and won 89-59; and in the third, Michigan was favored by 25 1/2 points and won 81-64.
The government said Pendergast paid Lee $4,000 to fix the Penn State game. Prosecutors would not say how much more was involved in the alleged payoffs, other than the players got nothing for the Michigan game because they failed to beat the point spread.
The government said $20,000 was wagered on that game by the two accused gamblers, but would not say how much more money was involved.