How do players typically throw games without being noticed?

The main difficulty of throwing a game on purpose (i.e., to be paid by gamblers) is that there is a huge crowd watching your every move, and especially millions if the game is televised. How do players typically pull this off with plausible deniability?

Do batters try to take a foolish swing here and there to get themselves struck out, but in an innocent looking way?

Does a goalie purposefully flail about and fail to stop an otherwise stop-able shot?

In addition, is it typically much easier to bribe offensive players to lose, than defenders? (i.e., for a basketball player to make a three-point shot but miss is perfectly easy to do since most 3-point attempts miss anyway, but for a baseball player to keep dropping catchable fly balls would be highly suspicious?)

Yours is probably a difficult question to answer, at least for North American sports (which is what I’m familiar with), as there aren’t many documented cases of game-throwing (successful or not) in the postwar era.

If you read about the Black Sox scandal in the 1919 World Series, it sounds like several of the players were pretty obvious about it. From Wikipedia:

In the Wikipedia entry on match-fixing scandals, there are nearly no examples from the major North American professional sports in the past 50 years or longer. They list two examples from the last 25 years, from college football, where a running back fumbled at an inopportune moment, and a couple of basketball examples (mostly point-shaving at the college level), but that’s it.

I suspect the tactics among specific sports, but it seems to me that having the defense in the bag is more helpful than the offense where the majority of legitimate errors occur.

Also, to note: I think it would generally be difficult to find a way to get players to throw a game in the “big four” North American pro sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL), because the players have such lucrative contracts now.

If one were setting about trying to fix a game, you’d need a starter, or a reserve who plays regularly (and in the NFL, in particular, at particular positions, like quarterback or running back; it’s going to be a lot harder to get a game thrown by a guard or a defensive tackle). Most of those guys make a lot of money from playing (six-figure contracts or more), and the real stars have endorsement deals, as well. Players know that they would put all of that at risk if they got involved in trying to affect the result of a game, so it would likely take an enormous payoff from the gamblers in order to get it to happen.

As the link I shared above shows, where there has been game-fixing in the U.S. in recent decades has been at the college level – college players typically are on scholarship, but until very recently, they haven’t been allowed to “profit” in any way from their status as players. So, I could totally see a player who is a starter on his college team, but is realistic enough about his future to know that he isn’t going to be a star in the pros, being vulnerable to getting paid off to throw a game.

And, of course, that’s similar to what happened with the Black Sox – the players felt that the team owner was a cheapskate (as well as being a jerk), and that they were underpaid.

Thanks for the replies thus far. For clarification, I’m not asking whether players would throw a game; they most likely wouldn’t. I’m just asking how the best way to throw it would be without millions of TV viewers catching on.

Specific to each sport, too, i.e.,

What is the best way to throw a hockey game without being noticed?
What is the best way to throw a baseball game without being noticed?
What is the best way to throw a soccer game without being noticed?
What is the best way to throw a football game without being noticed?
What is the best way to throw a tennis game without being noticed?
What is the best way to throw a basketball game without being noticed?

Etc. etc.

And which are the easiest and hardest sports to match-fix?

I understand; my point was that it’s really hard to say what’s the best way to throw a football game, because there are so few recorded instances of it actually happening recently. We can hypothesize all day long, of course. :slight_smile:

Alternately, there may be some way to throw a game that’s so non-obvious, and so likely to succeed, that some guy has been doing it for years, and no one’s caught him, because it’s just that good. :smiley:

Don’t know enough about the other sports you listed to give a serious opinion, but for American football since the quarterback has such an outsized role in the game, I can think of several ways the quarterback can throw a game-winning drive away with plausibility deniability:

  • Stay in the pocket too long and take the sack, claiming that he couldn’t find the open receiver
  • Overthrow a receiver in the end zone
  • Throw the ball to the team’s best receiver, who is being triple covered
  • When scrambling, fumble the ball at the first whiff of contact from an opposing player

In all fairness, if a quarterback doesn’t try these tactics too often, it is actually quite hard to tell whether they are doing it on purpose so they can get paid by gamblers, or that they just flat-out suck. I mean, Carson Wentz could’ve been paid off by the Mafia for all his starts in the 2020 season, and no one would’ve been the wiser.

Were there not at least two instances where accusations were raised two NFL games were thrown?

It should be mentioned that “throwing the game” usually doesn’t involve losing, but rather “shaving points” so as to not beat “the spread”. If a team is favored by 2 touchdowns, it takes less effort (and is therefore less likely to be noticed) than flat up losing to not score that second TD.

A coach can “throw” a game in the NFL easily. The Eagles most certainly did last year, as @Duckster points out.

The funny thing is that it’s totally transparent and acceptable. Well, maybe not among sports fans or anyone who cares about integrity, but it’s a sound strategy to tank in the NFL. And when so much of the game revolves around strategy, it’s simple to just take out your best guy (as the Eagles did) or run plays that basically give up the game.

How many times do teams with a lock on the playoffs rest their starters toward the end of the season? The game doesn’t mean anything at that point, and why risk injuring your best players to win a game that doesn’t improve your chances to win the championship. Resting your best people is like having an extra bye week. Ironically, throwing a game that doesn’t matter is the best way to try to win the games that matter.

I know this isn’t exactly fitting the OP which is about players throwing a game. And clearly these tactics aren’t going unnoticed. But it is an accepted means of throwing a game, so I thought it was interesting the expand on this.

As @kenobi_65 wisely said, we’re reduced to guessing here because we don’t have good data on it happening.

@TheGunIsMightierThanThePen did a pretty good take on football; that sport is somewhat suited to a single player being able to throw a game. Or at least to throw a close game.

IMO a team (as opposed to one player) doesn’t throw a game by individual klutz plays. They throw it away by sustained slightly less than full-on effort.

Let’s take baseball as an example:

  • As a batter, if you do make contact, your launch towards first base is just a little slower than your max effort. In a marginal situation where you’d stretch for two you don’t. Or you push for second on one you’d usually hold up on.
  • Pitchers throw more of their less-good pitch, whichever that is. Aim a bit more to the corners than you can reliably make and end up throwing more balls than usual.
  • Outfielders can get a slightly slower jump on the ball or start their run to someplace 10-20 feet away from where they think is the correct spot, then arc into place. That’ll just miss the ones they’d otherwise just get.
  • Catchers work a little less hard on framing the ball, converting fewer true balls into strike calls. Don’t throw to second on a steal attempt.

Emphasis on “slight” on all this stuff. The result over 9 innings is your team gives up a couple extra runs and makes a couple fewer too. Assuming the other guys show up full tilt they’ll be the winner most times.

With the amount of analytics in baseball these days I could see the coaching staff discovering after the fact that half the team was playing like they were hung over or jet-lagged and the other half wasn’t. Which might be real suspicious if the same thing happened by the same players tomorrow against the same opponent.

There is, IMO, a distinction between “throwing” (or “shaving points”), which is done, nearly always by specific players, in exchange for payment by gamblers (or bookmakers), and “tanking,” which is done by coaches/management in order to improve the team’s position in the next draft.

The net result is the same, of course – a team winds up not fully competing in the game, and making it less than an honestly-contested matchup – but the reasons for doing it are different, and the leagues undoubtedly view it somewhat differently (I don’t think there are any examples of a North American team being penalized by the leagues for tanking).

In formula 1/racing of any kind, it’s as easy as “accidentally” crashing. Renault famously instructed their junior shitty driver to do so to let their good driver take the lead during the subsequent yellow flag.

The problem I see with tactics that only give a slight advantage is they might not actually be enough to win. It would be very dependent on those telling them to throw the game accepting that it wasn’t possible without being too obvious, and that they weren’t the ones being scammed.

Granted, I am thinking more about blackmail as a motivation, rather than money. Given the actual amounts of money players make in games that matter, that seems more likely. Though maybe my thinking has been ruined by Hollywood.

The incentive to throw games on a professional level has declined dramatically, given modern salaries. When even average players are making millions, why take a chance on blowing it all for comparatively small sums?

In baseball you’d think the pitcher is the one for gamblers to sew up. It could be as little as screwing up location at a few key moments to good hitters and there’s your ballgame.

As to the Black Sox, key players weren’t always subtle about their actions, but the fix might have gone unnoticed if there hadn’t already been a ton of unsavory rumors floating around.

I guess team sports are harder because you have to pay off a whole team, or risk the team members you do pay off not being able to swing the result.

Tennis would be easy. It’s a game of very narrow margins. A good player can hit the tape, or land a ball just outside the backline, enough to lose. And they do that often enough anyway, that detection would be hard.

But again at the top level of the game the money is so good it’s hard to see anyone being interested. For a betting scam to work, you need a player who can reliably win to throw a game. Tennis players who reliably win don’t need the money.

Unfortunately cricket has become a sordid sport particularly in India in because of mass gambling. Seemingly the pay isn’t good enough that players won’t do it.

I’d forgotten about this one: in at least one case, the answer to “what’s the best way to manipulate the outcome of pro sports games?” was “pay off a referee.” Tim Donaghy, who was an NBA referee, was taking bribes to make sure that games he was officiating were coming down on one side or the other of the spread, and he managed to pull it off for four years.

Or they can default. Here is an article about strange betting on a match between #4 ranked Nikolay Davydenko of Russia and No. 87 Martin Vassallo Arguello of Argentina. Early betting had Davydenko as an underdog??? After winning the first set, he was an even bigger underdog. Then he defaulted by claiming an injury.
Googling for that story found other cases of match fixing in tennis, such as this one.

But the pitcher is also the most easy to replace. You’d need the manager or the whole bullpen in on it to work. I think the catcher would be a better bet.

For soccer, the goalie is the only player who could reasonably throw a game, by seeming to react too slowly to shots on goal and letting the other side score. You’d need the other team to be good enough to get some shots on goal, and hope that giving up one or two goals would be enough to guarantee the win (which it probably would).