Scandals of 51: How the Gamblers Almost Killed College Basketball

Scandals of 51: How the Gamblers Almost Killed College Basketball




‘Scandals of 51’ feels like an example of today’s headlines coming out yesterday. In other words, even though this book discusses events from 1951 the scenarios are still pretty plausible today. In fact, you don’t have to look very deep to find some parallels between ‘Scandals of 51’ and ‘Personal Foul’.


The college basketball scandals of 1951 were to basketball what the 1919 Black Sox scandals were to baseball – a loss of innocence, after which the game would be permanently tarnished, its relationship to power and big money firmly established. In Scandals of ’51, Charley Rosen identifies all the major figures – including players, coaches, gangsters, clergymen, politicians – that made up the elaborate network that controlled the outcomes to many games or protected those who did so. Rosen shows who got caught and who didn’t, and what role class, race, and religion played in determining this.
©1978 , 1999 Charley Rosen (P)2013 Audible, Inc.


‘Scandals of 51’ tells the story of the point shaving scandals that plagued college basketball during that era. The book introduces us to some of the players, coaches and outsiders that had a hand in or were affected by the scandals. The City College of New York is probably the most well-remembered program to be involved in the scandal, but as the book points out there were issues with many college programs all throughout the country.
Gambling on sports is as old as sports itself. Early in ‘Scandals of 51’ Rosen goes through the history of fixing sporting events, and traces it all the way back to the ancient Olympics. Then in the book’s epilogue, which was written in 1999, Rosen points out the obvious, which is that the gamblers were not scared off after the events of ’51, with more scandals being uncovered in the early 1960s, all the way up to the 1990s.
As events unfold on the college basketball court and elsewhere surrounding the game, Rosen uses headlines from the time to paint a picture of what else was happening in the world. This is a nice touch, especially now that more than 60 years have passed.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the entire book is the comments from players about their involvement. A player on a bad team wondered what the big deal was if his team lost by 5 points or 7, they still lost regardless. Some players felt that they took the brunt of the backlash from the scandal and indeed that seems to be true. A few lost jobs in the pro game and could not be hired as coaches for years as a result. The gamblers didn’t seem to suffer that same loss of reputation.
The truth of ‘Scandals of 51’ is that even all these years later, the motivations to point shave haven’t changed all that much. In fact, since universities make so much more money now off of their players than they did in the early 1950s, a player might want a piece of whatever he can get when he can get it. That is especially true if he realizes that he’s not likely to become a multimillionaire in the NBA some day. So that is why as much as things have changed since the 1950s, imagining a similar scandal unfolding is still quite easy to do.


Charley Rosen’s ‘Scandals of 51’ is an attempt to cover a historical event in a personal way. You could easily describe this as an oral history because of how much it concentrates on specific people and what motivated them to take part in the point shaving, stay out of the point shaving, and how they all felt in the aftermath. Indeed, from players to coaches to others involved, nobody has an identical story, and there are a wide range of consequences.
Rosen did a good job of capturing the mood of the time in 1951 when a majority of these events took place, but he also made sure to capture the mood of those were involved and willing to talk all these years later. The book was written in the 1970s, but in many ways it feels as fresh as if it had been written this year.


L.J. Ganser does an all right job with the narration. At times he sounds exactly like an old time announcer on the radio. He reads at a good pace but is not afraid to pause for dramatic effect.


This was recorded in 2013, so there is no reason why it shouldn’t sound good. The track is clear of any glitches and is also free of sudden shifts in volume. No music or sound effects can be found on the track, and the audio chapter stops match the book chapters perfectly. Really, there’s nothing to complain about here; it is what you would expect it to be.


‘Scandals of 51’ may be a book that was written in the late 1970s about a scandal that took place in the 1950s, but there is a certain amount of familiarity to the story. In fact, if you read this book and think about some of the controversies surrounding college athletics today, you may wonder if anything has really changed between 1951 and 2015.
Well, the answer is that yes, a couple of things have changed. For one thing, college basketball and college football are much bigger businesses and bring in much more money now than they did in 1951. So the debate over whether college athletes should be compensated for their worth has only gotten more heated as time has passed.
But perhaps the biggest thing that still remains the same from 1951 is who suffers the most when these schemes are discovered. As I argued in my review of ‘Personal Foul’, it was the lowest guys on the ladder that suffered the most. It wasn’t the gamblers that had their livelihoods ruined when the scandal was uncovered, it was the players.
So while ‘Scandals of 51’ is now decades old, the story still manages to feel remarkably current and familiar. That’s a good thing for the book, but not such a good thing for society as a whole and how we look at sports.


Title Author Narrator Publisher Genre Release Date Running Time Score
Scandals of 51: How the Gamblers Almost Killed College Basketball Charley Rosen L.J. Ganser Audible Studios Sports MM/DD/YYYY 8 hours, 49 minutes 7.5/10


A copy of ‘SCANDALS OF 51: HOW THE GAMBLERS ALMOST KILLED COLLEGE BASKETBALL’ was purchased from Audible for review.