Widespread public acceptance of gambling on the outcome of college sports contests helps create a climate in which it can be difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate pressures on players to accept bribes to shave points, according to several leading coaches.
"We certainly can't function in this type of atmoshpere and expect kids not to make any mistakes," said John Thompson, baskeball coach at Georgetown University. "The whole Jimmy the Greek thing is a perfect example of society's acceptance of gambling on college athletics. It creates an atmosphere of permissiveness in a kid's mind. You create an environment for that type of thing when you publicize the point spread in a college game."
"I do know that gambling seems to be more and more popular, and we have created a climate where it almost seems legal to bet on games," said Terry Holland, basketball coach at the University of Virginia. "Any time you do that, you're asking for trouble."
Holland and Thompson were reacting to reports in The Washington Post that federal prosecutors in New York were investigating allegations that at least two members of the 1978-79 Boston College basketball team had accepted payoffs from gamblers to shave points during games.
Marv Harshman, basketball coach at the University of Washington and president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, said that basketball is more susceptible than most sports to pointshaving schemes.
"It's just so difficult to tell why a team is having a bad night," said harshman. "A team can be favored by 15 and win by only five sometimes, and there just doesn't seem to be any reason for it."
It is also true, said Harshman, that in the high-pressure world of major college athletics, cornercutting does occur and some players have become accustomed to seeing the rules stretched.
"In recruiting, you have coaches promising things that are just a little outside the letter of the law. The kids are led to believe there are a lot of gray areas.
"There are a lot of coaches that have taken money from shoe companies. To our way of thinking why wouldn't a player fell that if a coach can make money off a game, why shouldn't he? We demand complete puritanism from our players, and yet we think there is nothing wrong with the coach having his hand out.
"There is so much money around, first in the professionals, now in college coaching. A player might easily think, 'Why can't I make a thousand dollars by missing a layup or a pass?' There are so many ways of potentially shaving the point spread, things that you can never really hold accountable. I don't think it's widespread, but it's always there in the background."
Other college basketball coaches contacted said they regularly warned players against participating in point-shaving schemes, but they acknowledged there was no sure method of prevention. And they said there is no way of telling how much point-shaving goes undetected.
"It really could be far more serious and more of an annual situation than anybody suspects," said Ralph Miller, basketball coach at Oregon State University, ranked No. 1 in wire service polls last week. "You can talk to your players, and it can be part of the first indroctrination in college basketball, but when it comes down to individuals and personal situations, it's really beyond our control. I don't know how you can prevent individual contacts, if somebody wants to take and somebody wants to buy. I just do not know what can be done about it."
Gary Williams, basketball coach at American Univeristy and an assistant at Boston College for one year (1977-78), said the temptation to shave points "is something you've got to talk about with your players. You've almost got to preach to the team.
"Obviously, a lot of college students, including basketball players, just don't have any money. They're scraping to get by. Some guy comes in and offers them a thousand dolllars and it seems like a lot of money, but in the long run it can be very serious."