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What Does Shaving Points in Football Mean?

To shave points, a player or coach, or even referee attempt to change the final score of a game without necessarily changing the winner. This can be done, for example, by a player intentionally making a mistake to keep the score closer. If the spread is 8 points, a player involved in point shaving wants to ensure their team does not win by more than 7 points.

Typically, a player colludes with a gambler or a bookie, and an agreement or bribe is used to get a player to shave points. Without changing the game’s result, a player tries to keep that game within a specific point range. 

Key Takeaways

  • Points shaving is when a perpetrator attempts to keep a game’s score from covering the spread. 
  • Point shaving is illegal and can result in severe penalties and punishments for all involved.
  • It is against NFL Policy for players to even bet on games. Calvin Ridley was suspended for betting on games for the entire 2022-2023 NFL season. Imagine the suspension for shaving points. [1]

Point shaving is illegal and considered cheating. Any player or team that involves themselves could end up finding themselves suspended and, worse, in serious legal trouble. 

It would work with a spread bet where a player may intentionally but not obviously make a mistake to keep their team from scoring. If a team is favored by 10, a player would help their team win but not by any over nine points.

What is Spread Betting?

To understand what point shaving is, you must understand what a spread bet is. 

A spread bet is the number of points an oddsmaker makes that is the projected difference between two teams. Oddsmakers use this number as teams are not all equal, and using a point spread makes the betting field close to equal. 

In football, if a team is a favorite, they will have a negative spread like the Chiefs, 49ers, and Lions do in the above image. If a team is an underdog, it will have a positive spread like the Texans, Cardinals, and Bears. The odds for both would be close to even, meaning a dollar bet is close to a dollar earned. 

That is why the spread is used, to try and keep betting odds close to even. For example, if the 49ers are favored over the Cardinals by 8.5 points, the line would appear:

Cardinals +8.5 (-115) vs. 49ers -8.5 (-110) [2]

For a player attempting to shave points, they are attempting to keep their team from winning by too many points. Going back to our Cardinals vs. 49ers, if there were point-shaving involved, it would be an attempt to keep the 49ers from winning by more than eight points. 

Know that in a point-shaving scenario, if the Cardinals were to win, it would still be points-shaving because a player is trying to keep their team from winning by more than eight points. If their team loses, that is the same as them winning by eight points or less.

Point Shaving Scandals History

Sports has a history going back decades with point-shaving scandals, both alleged incidents, and incidents that ended in handcuffs.

2005 Toledo Football

Eight people were indicted in a point-shaving scandal involving the Toledo football program. Three football players, three basketball players, and two gamblers. Two players ended up being charged, with a third having the charges dropped. The FBI led the investigation with it starting with suspicious amounts of money being bet on Toledo football. [3]

1994 Arizona State Basketball

Arizona State was caught shaving points in as many as four games during the 1994 season. Will two future NBA players, the scandal started with what was supposed to be a one-game thing and turned into more. If it had stayed at one game, the players might have gotten away with it. Yet after a string of suspicious games, authorities and casinos started to catch on to what was happening. [4]

How to Point Shaving Works in Real Football Games

Three main people can be involved in point shaving, players, coaches, and referees.

Players: To get away with point-shaving for a player is easy. A player could drop a pass, intentionally commit a penalty or fumble the ball or throw an interception on purpose.

Coach: For a coach, all they would need to do is call a game conservatively on offense, making his team’s chances of scoring worse. On the defensive side, a coach could call a bad defensive play making it easier for the other team to score. A coach could also put backup players in, making the opponents go against a lesser player.

Referee: Many fans would like to think that referees do it frequently. While that is not the case, a referee could do it easily simply by making bad penalty calls in favor of one team.


Does Point Shaving Still Happen?

That is up for debate, and if it does happen, I’d think it is more likely to happen at the college level than at the NFL. In the NFL, it has gotten to the point where players make so much or at least the ones that can affect the game. 

For a bettor to bribe or convince a player to point shave, it would be tough to make it worthwhile.

Also, with the legalization of sports betting in the United States, the spotlight and watchful eye for potential point shaving are as high as it has ever been. 

Government entities and sportsbooks constantly watch trends and potential point-shaving scenarios, making it highly unlikely.



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