There’s been a clumpy stream of coverage on the University of Toledo and players’ alleged connections to gamblers and point shaving rings in the last year or so, but it’s been dormant for a while. I guess they were waiting to finally nail someone in the investigation, and the latest chargers have come under former Toledo basketball player Sammy Villegas.
Villegas (pronounced vee-JAY-gus) played for the Rockets from 2002-2006, but documents filed in district court obtained by FOX TOLEDO charge the man with one count of “conspiracy to influence sporting contests by bribery,” a federal offense punishable up to 5 years in prison.
And I thought Villegas was just bad at basketball his senior year.
Sammy was the Mid-American Conference Rookie of the Year in 2002-2003, and he was always known as a sharpshooter from behind the 3-point line. Toward his senior year, though, that just wasn’t the case. The excuse I remember was that Villegas, a native of Puerto Rico, was exhausted from playing international games for his homeland. He rode the bench for most of his final two years, which is the trademark sign of a disappointing player. (It’s not like the team was that great those two years, either.)
The federal documents reveal that the disappointing performances might’ve been on purpose. On February 4, 2006, Villegas missed two free throws against Central Michigan intentionally. Sure enough, Sammy V. was 0-for-2 from the free throw line that night. But while I don’t exactly remember that game, I’m pretty sure I was in attendance for that. And I’m pretty sure my father and I scoffed at two missed free throws. We normally do.
In the entire game, Villegas finished with 3 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists in the game. Not exactly the numbers you see out of a point fixer. But that’s why this story will continue to be mysterious. Yes, phone records say that Villegas spoke with “a conspirator known to the United States Attorney” before and after the game. Yet actually proving that Villegas’ bench role influenced the outcome — or whether or not he pushed the margin of victory above or below the spread — will be very difficult to prove. Unless intent is all they need. But intent is boring.
The way this story will become more interesting, however, is when/if we find out other names. (To me, they’ll be interesting, because I will have actually heard of the names.) The two teammates FOX TOLEDO half-suggested could be involved are either Keith Triplett, who was contacted by the FBI last year about the other UT point-shaving scandal, or Kashif Payne, who mysteriously left the team the year after being named MAC Defensive Player of The Year.
If you recall, a year ago former Toledo football player Scooter McDougle was charged with being involved in a point shaving scandal, and an ESPN report named current St. Louis Rams quarterback Bruce Gradkowski as someone who might’ve taken money to sit out a football game back in college.
So even if you’re not a native of Northwest Ohio, keep following this story, because after being poked with the local fork, it undoubtedly still packs a ton of juice.
UPDATE: The TOLEDO BLADE reports that Villegas’s alleged intentionally missed free throws came with 27 seconds left in the game with a 16-point lead. The reported spread of the game? Toledo by 15½ points.