Close Shave

Categories: Sports

As the NCAA men's basketball tournament grips Dallas today at the American Airlines Center, its fun to ponder all of the money and cheating that will be following the bouncing ball. Cheating? According to economist Justin Wolfers assistant professor of business and public policy at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, NCAA men's basketball is relatively rife with point-shaving, or at least the attempt by players to fix the final score of a game by muffing shots or coverage so that the heavily favored team wins by less than the point spread offered by bookies—a flimflam for which gamblers are willing to pay handsomely. Deploying methods from the field of forensic economics, Wolfers scrutinized the results of 44,120 games between 1989 and 2005 and discovered that perhaps five percent of all strong favorites are involved with point-shaving amounting to some 500 games. Evidence? Wolfers says the frequency by which 10-point favorites win by eight or nine points, or 15-point favorites win by 13 or 14, is greater than the statistical probability of such occurrences. So grab a Razr and let's play ball this weekend. —Mark Stuertz

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