Paul Tagliabue worries about possible point-shaving in the NFL

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The NFL did a billion-dollar about-face on gambling, once the Supreme Court threw open the floodgates to legalized wagering in 2018. The man who previously ran the NFL remains unnerved about what it could mean to pro football.

“I still worry about some young guy . . . and someone says to him, ‘Take the money,'” former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue told Jarrett Bell of USA Today.

Tagliabue said that he played in a college basketball game that was fixed, when Georgetown beat NYU in 1961.

“I played in a college basketball game that was fixed,” Tagliabue told Bell. “We beat the hell out of NYU. It was the biggest victory in my three years of basketball at Georgetown. Turns out that guys at NYU were taking money to shave points.”

Tagliabue thinks there’s less of a risk of point shaving in football, unless gamblers get to one specific person.

“Football, if you get the quarterback in football, presumably you can affect the outcome of the game,” Tagliabue said. “But if it’s not the quarterback and you get one or two guys, it may not affect the outcome of the game, which is why people explain there’s [been] point-shaving in basketball but not football.”

He’s right. There hasn’t been. Which perhaps means it remains unlikely going forward. From the NYU example to Henry Hill (yes, the same Henry Hill) and Boston College to Tim Donagy, basketball has had multiple gambling scandals. Football hasn’t. The legalization of gambling doesn’t introduce the possibility. Potentially, it magnifies it.

The NFL definitely should be worried. In a world of widespread legalized gambling, the wrong scandal at the wrong time could spark federal regulation and/or potentially prosecution. When gambling is illegal, Congress won’t care about people who get burned by it. When it’s legal, everything changes. Hard-earned money is being wagered. The powers-that-be will insist on a higher degree of integrity.

Tagliabue’s instincts are right. Now, it’s up to his successor to ensure that the league applies the kind of imagination and creativity needed to anticipate gambling controversies and to prevent them from happening.

73 responses to “Paul Tagliabue worries about possible point-shaving in the NFL

  1. You would go after an O-Lineman not the QB. They make less money and it would be almost impossible for the OL to get caught or raise suspicion. And ANY of the 5 OLs can affect the outcome of a game.

  2. This explains why Rodgers didnt run into the end zone in the nfc championship game and his weird kumbaya head in the clouds thing he has going on.

  3. You don’t need to get to the QB to affect point shaving. The referees are already helping out with that.

  4. I don’t believe you can fix an NFL game because every few weeks they seem to blow a game all on their own.

  5. yeah the refs is the thing.. they make so little.. and some of the calls are so bad up til now.. think about if there is any scandal ala NBA

  6. Duh the kicker is your man.
    Vegas is normally accurate within a few points so a missed XP or FG is all you need.
    cut that 7 point spread to 4 and $$$$

  7. The law of numbers says statistically there has been point shaving in the NFL at some point. However the refs are the real threat. The non-call for pass interference in the Rams vs Saints game is about as much proof as you need. They freakin reviewed the play and still didn’t overturn it. Zero chance the refs are that incompetent. If that’s not proof, I don’t know what is.

  8. Roger Goodell will go down as the most infamous commissioner in nfl history. Allowing sports gambling will be the downfall of sports altogether.

  9. People have been gambling on NFL games for years. Decades. Not much has changed. If they wanted to shave points, they could have. If anything, the leagues refusal to properly officiate games by using replay, opens up all kinds of possibilities. Why on earth wouldn’t they choose to get all the calls correct, even when they the technology to do it without delaying games. They could actually get all the calls right and speed up games. Why do they refuse to allow the players to determine the outcome? I mean, when a ref screws up a call, the players weren’t involved in the fix.

  10. A quarterback already makes $30 MILLION a year and over $100m in his career. Please tell me what gamblers can offer that would get a QB to risk point shaving.

    Someone else mentioned the o-line. Yet in 2021, the average o-line together makes $35 million.

    If any league can be fixed, it’s college sports and not the pros.

  11. I was told by a player (not a qb) in 92 “we weren’t supposed to win that game, don’t bet on football”. (Tag was commish then 😉)” I suggest you guys follow his advice. Tag also forgot to mention kickers that practice hitting light poles, refs that watch the replays then still make the wrong calls, rules designed to be ambiguous (Megatron rule, holding), and most importantly a federal judge that told the Jets fans “your ticket only guarantees you “entertainment”, not a sporting contest”. It has been rigged since at least when the first billionaire joined the league and made sure Joe Namath and the AFL gave legitimacy to the merger. Remember, 32 billionaires don’t leave making money to chance… “It’s much easier to fool people, than convince them that they have been fooled” ~ Mark Twain

  12. If you get to the lesser paid Placekicker, you can really effect the game…

  13. Anyone remember nick chubb stepping out of bounds at the one against the eagles or that last second safety the browns gave up against the ravens so Baltimore covered the spread?

    Just two examples.

    I suspect point shaving is already happening.

  14. HELLO!!! It’s not going to be players, it’s REFs. You can’t tell me some of those SUPER late bs holding calls on the opposite side of the field. That can’t shave 7 points easy??

  15. cueghost says:
    June 15, 2021 at 8:33 pm
    You would go after an O-Lineman not the QB. They make less money and it would be almost impossible for the OL to get caught or raise suspicion. And ANY of the 5 OLs can affect the outcome of a game.
    Well they better pay that O-Lineman a whole lot of money to do it, because he’s gonna get cut afterwards and will say goodbye to future contract money.

  16. It may happen in college, but this is the pros. I doubt any player in the NFL is going to do this for money (which would be insignificant vs their own salary, and future contracts and endorsements they’d give up by throwing the game). The refs on the other hand…that’s who we need to keep an eye on.

  17. There have been many instances of point shaving in NFL games all involving the referees. Anyone that thinks otherwise is really naive. Thats why the NFL controls replays the last 2 mins of the game

  18. “I played in a college basketball game that was fixed,” Tagliabue told Bell. “We beat the hell out of NYU. It was the biggest victory in my three years of basketball at Georgetown. Turns out that guys at NYU were taking money to shave points.”

    Interesting. Was gambling legal when that happened?

  19. It already happened; watch Super Bowl XL Seattle/Pittsburg. No way refs could be that consistently bad against one team and not be in some gamblers pocket.

  20. You need to worry about the refs. No starting NFL QB is going to shave points for a few bucks.

  21. This is why refs should never be allowed to pick up flags (which they do a lot of).

  22. Make PI a maximum 15 yard penalty like in college and half the problem is instantly solved. No penalty should be 40+ yards. Those calls can break games.

  23. Paul T is correct…and it already happens…not with players…but with the refs…it’s very subtle and doesn’t happen every game…

    Don’t get me wrong…they can’t control who wins the game…but they absolutely can control the point spread…

    Funny thing about the point spread…outta of all the games played during the course of a season the number of underdogs that cover the spread vs the number of favorites will somehow be extremely close…neither total will run away from the other…which seems a little too perfect to be a coincidence…

    Don’t believe me just test it…if one or two weeks a Lotta underdogs cover the spread…you can best believe the following week or two…the favorites will make a comeback evening out the totals…which shouldn’t be if outcomes were truly random…any given Sunday right…?

  24. Is he seriously comparing a fixed college basketball game from 40 years ago to a modern day NFL game???? Even the lowest paid NFL player (who likely never suits up) is already making enough money that they don’t need to shave any points!

  25. I’ve been waiting for an article like this one. Paul is right. There is just too much money involved….all it takes is one player who feels cheated by the GM to take some and the integrity (whats left) is gone. I believe gambling will eventually be the downfall of the NFL.

  26. It already exists in the NFL, but it’s less obvious. Although, Cam Newton not diving on a fumble in Super Bowl 50 is the clearest example I can think of.

  27. If you get a kicker, who makes less than a QB, you could influence points and maybe an outcome.

  28. You don’t have to actually fix the game. You would go after the prop bets. First fumble. First penalty, First injury, whatever. That would be easier, and wouldn’t have to involve star players. Interesting odds on some of those bets, too.
    I still wouldn’t say you can’t fix a game though. Other comments are right though; the ones most able to do it would be offensive linemen and refs. Hope we never see it.

  29. Kickers is where you need to watch.

    The money is in the points spread, the big odds against the spread are in the big boys v minnows.

    Big Boy QB’s are on Big Boy money, you aint getting to them.

    Drop 500k or so on the kicker to keep it within the spread, not lose the game but keep it in the spread…. shank a FG, muff a PAT, who would know?

  30. Point shaving isn’t going to be caught by seeing the player do something obvious. It will be caught by the money trail of big betting dollars going in late to a specific team from a questionable source. That will lead to a review of bank records for the players and the awareness of unexplained deposits. Ultimately the jail time comes from money laundering activities.

  31. So let’s stop pretending that gambling didn’t exist before it was legal outside of Vegas.

    The kind of people who are going to attempt to bribe a player a fix a game are the kind of people who were involved with illegal gambling before.

    My immediate friend group have all thrown some bets down here and there since it went live in my state and we’re all pretty regular guys and reflective of middle American sports fans as a whole. I highly doubt that bunch of borning dudes in their late 30’s to mid 40’s with kids, wives and dogs who are into lawn maintenance, playing madden, smoking meat, and watching football are launching a ring to try and bribe a starting player on an NFL team.

    Plus , players make too much money now. The amount you would have to pay a player to do it would result in having to put down huge bets that will probly ring an alarm.

    College is the bigger worry, but again- any shenanigans were taking place before.

  32. Caveat emptor. Anyone who throws down more than a few dollars just to keep their interest in a game for an afternoon, well…

  33. the qb is unlikely to participate as he makes enough money, however, the refs are the ones you need to watch for. easy to call offensive holding when you see big play developing, or pass interference when you need team b to catch up in points

  34. This is already happening, but with the Zebras. Reference Saints loss to Rams in NFC Championship game. No way, no how this error could have occurred but it did. Efforts to remedy the situation were tabled after one futile attempt. The league will not give up control.

  35. id be more worried about the refs! they easily have the most ability to affect the outcome of a game. they can take points off theboard with ridiculous calls that are unchallengable and unreviewable leaving us with no choice but to accept the outcome. folks already think the game is rigged and its hard to argue against it sometimes. and while the nfl tweeks rules all the time they flat out refuse to use technology to get calls right. at some point thats going to bite them where it hurts. but for now the nfl likes that ace up the sleeve because they have the ability to manipulate the outcome of the game, which they may or may not have been doing for years.

  36. Tagliabue should stop fretting. It is beyond stupid to think that a player making millions of dollars would risk lifetime banishment and prison time to engage in a point-shaving scheme to earn a mere fraction of what he’s earning legally. Not saying it can’t happen. After all, genius has its limits but stupidity knows no bounds. But I’d be surprised if it did.

  37. It would be extremely difficult to arrange for point shaving in the NFL via the players (the refs are a different story.) These are not unpaid college athletes, they are millionaire professionals who’s next contract is always in the back of their minds. This is especially true for the players in the best position to affect point totals; QBs and the eligible receiver positions. The amount of money a game-fixer would have to come up with likely starts at seven figures.

    Also, NFL players (again, the ones in the best position) are very well known, and with the proliferation of social media, cell phones and security cameras in today’s world, the odds of such an arrangement happening and then not being discovered are very low.

    Finally, blowing a TD is not the same as missing a 10-foot jumper to render an 8pt win a 6 pt win. In football, huge momentum swings can happen when a QB overthrows a wide open receiver on 3 & goal from the 7, or a RB fumbles at the 1 yard line. Games are lost on those momentum swings and while a fixer would not care, the player would as he would lose the mental comfort of thinking “I didn’t lose the game for my team, I just screwed some degenerate gamblers.”

    Perhaps the exception to all this would be kickers or kick holders. They don’t make a lot of money compared to other skill positions, and a blown PAT or FG late in the 4th quarter of an already decided game is a lot easier to pull off. Even then, it could not become a regular thing because if it did, that player would be cut for performance.

  38. HagemeisterPark says:
    June 15, 2021 at 8:33 pm
    This explains why Rodgers didnt run into the end zone in the nfc championship game and his weird kumbaya head in the clouds thing he has going on.

    AR has earned $240,000 million thus far in his career. Do you seriously think that he can bought off by some gambling interest?

  39. Prohibition makes corruption more likely. Legalization with regulation makes corruption less likely.

    If you make an activity criminal, it will be run by criminals.

    If people want to engage in an activity and it is legal, they can avoid dealing with criminals.

    This isn’t rocket science folks.

  40. The guys they need to worry about are the long snappers and holders. No QB is going to be bribed.

  41. The team wearing the white ans black stripes is the ones that need to be under a microscope.
    They determine the outcome of games already and with them making less money, they also can be “gotten to” by outsiders much easier then a player.
    Won’t be long and the integrity of the game will be questioned

  42. As many have pointed out , the refs are tbe biggest concern.

    Simple solution ‘ make them all full time and start them at 85k a year. Havr performance reviews and ratings like evey other business, and tie increases in compensation and a bonus structure to performance. Have Head guys who have been around forever and performed their jobs excellently like Ed Hochuli or Mike Carry did pulling in 250k near the end of their careers. That way a first year back judge who is making 85k and a chance at a 10-15% bonus based on performance. And defined career path with lucrative pay has motivation to get it right, and makes enough money to offset a possible bribe.

    The NFL can certainly afford it.

  43. We’re not just talking about 25 cent bets between middle school kids here. There is and has been high stakes underground betting on NFL games for a long time. Some players have gambling problems. Getting one of them to shave points or throw a game is a real possibility. Extortion is also a real threat.

    If a player makes a legit bet, and ends up in hock to loan sharks, that’s motivation. Gambling can be a symptom of a sickness.

  44. GEEEEE finally someone states the obvious. Anyone could be bought, players making million still want more and more. Wonder who will get caught first.

  45. The article and most of the comments in this section are focused on players.
    The main focus should be on the referees. they seem to escape a lot of scrutiny and we should
    Rely more on cameras and Technology

  46. The NFL already uses the Refs to fix games to get their most marketable teams into the right games, playoffs. The NFL also looks the other way with certain players behaviors will severely punishing others for trumped up charges to give great advantages to those teams to easily make the playoffs. It is all about TV ratings. Point shaving can be done through any skilled player, drop the ball, fumble the ball, run out of bounds instead of scoring or stopping the clock. Most NFL players spend their money so fast they need to supplement their income and this would be easy money it is the same for fantasy football with stats.

  47. I could see this being a problem in college, not the NFL. Theres too many moving parts in the NFL. Too many players on a team. And considering most starters make a good amount of money, it just doesnt add up or make sense. College it’s way easier to get to a QB at some smaller school. The NFL I cant see it ever happening. Games are too close to shave points. Its a league where blowouts are very uncommon.
    Referees makes more sense, but the league does a good job of hiring referees that have too much to lose and really cant be bought.

  48. Forget the players. It’s the refs where point shaving can be easily and almost undetectably achieved. The refs cost less to buy off and they make judgment calls all the time–both calls made and calls “missed”. It is difficult to second guess most judgment calls. Also, the idea that gamblers can’t buy refs is preposterous. No matter how well they are screened, there will be some who will do it for the right price.

  49. The league and networks have been doing this for a long time to get the matchups they think we want to see…..

  50. A referee will get caught fixing a game eventually. A player is going to get caught but after the fact when someone from the betting side snitches him out. As my friend who is a big gambler has always said. “There’s going to be cheating you just have to be on the right side of it.”

  51. What QB is someone going to be able to compromise? With the money QB’s make you can’t get to one. You could definitely compromise an OL. Couple holding penalties in key spots. I don’t see any other position you could realistically compromise from a gambling perspective. Maybe a DB to commit PI, but that would take the other team throwing his way in a key spot.

  52. Refs and or the League have already fixed games. Like a poster above said the Steelers Seahawks Super Bowl game was blatantly fixed, the Cam Newton not going after the fumble vs the Broncos, the Replacement Refs fix job on the Seattle v Green Bay Monday Night game, and the Browns Steelers Playoff game was blatantly fixed for the Browns. Cmon Pouncey snapping the ball 10 feet over Roethlisberger’s head was blatant on the 1st play of the game, the Roethlisberger’s pick the next play

  53. I’m not sure why the threat of point shaving/fixing games would be so much more high now just because gambling is legal in more parts of the country. Gambling has been incredibly easy for decades. Do you think the mob is like “now that gambling is legal, we can get guys to fix games”. Pretty sure stuff like that has been going on for years

  54. It could be any player, coach or official involved in degrading one side’s effort, and it would be almost impossible to tell, if they were careful about it. The way to catch cheating is in the communications and/or moving or betting of money.

  55. Follow any game where the underdog is winning or getting close; then watch the flags start to fly.

  56. Point shaving in NCAA is about 10000x more likely as far as players go. If I were going to go after the NFL, Id do so via the refs, not a player.

  57. Greed knows no bounds and thinking point shaving won’t happen is simply naive.

  58. Best evidence of a fix I ever saw – in the early 2000’s I was in Vegas watching the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. One team is up by 8 with seconds to go and the ball, the guard of the team with the lead brings it over half court, stops, and heaves it up TOWARD HIS OWN BASKET from beyond half court. Of course he hits the three, reducing the winning margin from 8 to 5 points. And of course the spread was 6. The gambling book at this casino explodes with pandemonium. I thought half the guys in there were going to have a stroke.

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