Words and photograph by Matthew Romano
Illustrations by Katie Herchenroeder
Have you ever taken a tour of the glorious campus of City College? Chances are if you have, you’ve likely been bombarded with the fun fact that Nat Holman, aka Mr. Basketball, led the CCNY Beavers to the NIT and NCAA championship titles in 1950. Admissions Ambassadors, who give tours to prospective students, never forget to mention this and always manage to sneak in that we are still the only college to have accomplished this feat.
Despite all this history, if you filled out a bracket this year, or any of the past 60 years for that matter, you may wonder why you haven’t seen the Beavers there – celebrating a seeding on selection Sunday, excited to pick them as a Bracket-busting Cinderella team even if only out of biased pride. Well, there’s a part of this history that some students aware of Holman’s legacy believe the college has tried its hardest to erase. There seems to be a stigma around any discussion of CCNY’s athletics history, as it pertains to the eponymous point-shaving scandal of 1951, aside from the oft-repeated boasts of winning the championships a full 69 years ago. Unfortunately, the taboo seems to have pervaded any discussion of Athletics on campus, especially affecting the status, recognition, and respect of the college’s 17 varsity sports teams.
The Beavers’ Men’s and Women’s Basketball teams are of specific focus here, however, in the wake of the 2019 March Madness tournament. For a quick recap, the tournament concluded on April 8th with No. 1 seed University of Virginia’s 85-77 win over third-seeded Texas Tech. This end came as a surprise for most after their infamous loss to 16 seeded UMBC Retrievers in the first round of this year’s tournament and a huge, perhaps unsurprising, 11 point first half deficit to the, again 16 seeded, Bulldogs of Gardner-Webb University.
Now, think about this.
Have you ever been to a CCNY Basketball game? Have you ever even seen them advertised, can you feel a buzz around campus, in classes, ahead of a big game? Do you know the players, the captains, the coaches personally? Although we, a Division 3 school, may not be able to reply “yes” to any of the questions posed above, speak to anyone from a Division 3 school and chances are they may not even be able to imagine a situation where the answers to these questions could be anything other than a vehemently proud “Of course!” Alicia Veasy, a recent graduate of the University of Miami, home to the Hurricanes Division 1 sports teams, weighs in on what she says was a “chaotic” atmosphere and “insane” and “contagious” energy that enveloped the campus and the neighboring community around the time of March Madness.
Veasy admits that while she isn’t a huge sports person, “you could just see the energy that our sports teams brought to our campus. It made us just feel like, something more to be proud of and I know the University of Miami has a huge fandom and you could really sense it… You just really have that sense of community even not being directly at any of these events taking place.”
Now, returning to our present reality, out of Miami and back to the streets of Harlem that enclose and encircle City College, the difference between the two are now stark and almost palpable. At UM, knowledge about the games is ubiquitous; meanwhile, here, it is subtle to the point of scarcity. For UM students, going to at least one sport’s game is a rite of passage. Here, it is a luxury. For the person reading this: chances are, you haven’t been to a Beavers game and don’t expect to ever go to one. By this time, in 2019, it is mutually commonplace and accepted that athletics take the back-seat on a campus that still seems to hang its head in shame. Despite this, it is time that the point-shaving scandal is unearthed and stolen away from the shadows and solitude that the college has tried so hard to sustain. So, we turn back time now to a moment in history that although momentary, would prove to be momentous.
It was the 1950 – 51 season in the world of Division 1 college Basketball. As teams scraped and clawed for every win in hopes of inking their spot in the March Madness tournament, Manhattan College Center, Junius Kellogg, was asked to point-shave or ensure his team did not cover the point spread of the upcoming matchup. On February 18th, 1951, seven men were seized on indictment of conspiracy to fix NCAA games in this way. Among the notable schools implicated were City College, LIU Brooklyn, and to a lesser extent, the University of Kentucky, NYU, and others. In the case of CCNY, although Nat Holman was exonerated of any wrong doing, the players of the 1949 – 50 Beavers team were held responsible and with that, so was the whole campus.
Since the marring exposé, CCNY has been held down to D.3 status while other schools, University of Kentucky in particular, maintained their D1 ranking and has continued to be a dominating force in the NCAA – providing an illuminating glimpse at what could have been. For Sadaab Rahman, this is better looked at as what still could be. He reminds us, “This took place during a time period where spreads and illegal gambling was rampant. Personally, I don’t think it should be taboo because colleges today are doing far worse things and not paying nearly as big a price on the heels of the recent admissions scandal involving the 1% and Michigan State’s abhorrent culture of assault.”
Rahman notes a few things that need to happen for us to, on one hand, learn to celebrate our teams and their accomplishments under our Div. III status – one such accomplishment being our winning 55 CUNY AC championships since 1966. First, we have to break the stigma around the point-shaving scandal and absolve our students, faculty, players, coaches, and the Harlem community of the burdens they have had to bear as a result of just a few player’s crimes of over 60 years ago. Second, “Beavers need to hang their hat on following the footsteps and legacy of outstanding figures like Nat Holman, whom our gym is named after,” he suggests. Third, we need to reinvigorate our teams, their players, and their coaches who, as a result of what he sees as complacency, have grown inconsistent when continuity and stability is needed. Finally, he cites an “overhaul in college sports” as necessary in improving the product and increasing mobility between the different divisions of NCAA that have formed an immutable hierarchy of sorts.
Interestingly enough, the voice of the insider of all of this contention and controversy, Elizabeth Zullo, who serves as Captain of the CCNY Women’s Basketball Beavers, lies in contrast to Rahman’s commentary on the issue. If the latter’s assertions are to be construed at idealistic, the former’s are. When approached with the question of whether CCNY Athletics, after all this time, should dispute its relegated status as a D.3 school and at least try to get their foot on the ladder and start climbing up, Zullo nixed the notion. As has been a common theme of this article, Zullo cited reasons of complacency and its pervasiveness through all levels of the Athletics Department as why this will not and probably should not ever happen.
She says that everything from the coaching, the funding, the training, the recognition, the outreach, the facilities, the equipment and uniforms, and ultimately, the campus as a whole, would require a massive, inconceivable overhaul to allow CCNY to even entertain entering Div. II.
However, there is optimism in her honesty.
Zullo highlights the leaps and bounds taken by the College of Staten Island which has submitted a formal application to the NCAA for Division II membership effective for the upcoming athletic year as an accomplishment for all of CUNY to be proud of. Getting back to ‘Beaver business,’ Zullo mentions that the female Beavers have reached at least the Quarterfinals each year since the 2014-15 season, an achievement that should be equally recognized around CCNY. She admits that it would be great for the Beavers to make a bigger name for themselves around campus, even if that seems insignificant compared against the miles and years of regression, at least in terms of recognition, that the Athletic Dept. has taken on campus. She says that the way to do this is to ensure that these steps, even if short of the overhaul called for by Rahman, are taken in all sectors of the Athletics umbrella: the coaching, the funding, the training, the recognition, the outreach, the facilities, the equipment, and uniforms.
The first step is consensually agreed upon. Both sides display that CCNY should explore this uncharted territory of the CCNY Point-Shaving Scandal of 1950, spill the secrets secured within, and tear down the walls created by this stigma between the student body, the Beavers teams, and the NCAA. Maybe in doing this, CCNY can finally move past the scandal, pick heads up, open eyes and give current, hardworking teams the attention they deserve.