From March 2, 2006 to January 20, 2010, the University of Memphis men’s basketball team won 64 consecutive Conference USA games and lost none. “The streak” came crashing to an end Wednesday night at the hands of the UTEP Miners in FedExForum; but not before tying the University of Kentucky’s 1945-50 teams for the previously uncontested NCAA record for all-time consecutive conference wins.
However, because of a pending NCAA investigation on Memphis’ 2007-2008 season, and the 19 C-USA wins accompanying it, many are questioning the validity of the Tigers’ share of the NCAA record.
However, the real question should not be the validity of Memphis’ page in the history books, but the validity of Kentucky’s record, which has somehow stood for nearly 60 years. The pages of college basketball history brim with stories of the Wildcats, but none may be more eye-opening than the real story behind their 1945-50 SEC winning streak.
It is well-known and well documented that the Kentucky Wildcats, under the legendary Adolph Rupp, were one of the dirtiest programs in the history of college basketball. This is a fact that seems to be increasingly overlooked by today’s national media. However, Memphis has been under constant scrutiny for months. Questions about Derrick Rose’s SAT scores have put the Tigers in some serious hot water in the eyes of the national media; but everyone seems to forget the questions–and answers–surrounding Rupp’s greatest streak.
In reality, the record which the Tigers now have a share in has always been a dubious one. The Wildcats were also in some serious hot water during the height of their historic streak. An investigation by the New York District Attorney’s Office proved that three of Kentucky’s players during the 1948-1949 season had been directly involved in a gambling and points-shaving scandal. On October 20, 1951 former Kentucky players Alex Groza, Ralph Beard, and Dale Barnstable were arrested for receiving compensation from gamblers in exchange for shaving points during the 1948-1949 season–right in the middle of the Wildcats’ SEC winning streak. In addition, UK senior center Bill Spivey was charged with perjury for refusing to testify against his former teammates.
According to an excerpt from a hoopszone.net report entitled, The Dark Side of Kentucky Basketball:
“(Kentucky) entered the NIT Tournament 29-1. The heavily favored Wildcats then took a dive, losing to Loyola of Chicago, the lowest seeded team…The players were paid $1,500 dollars for their work…then went to the NCAA Tournament where they beat the Oklahoma Aggies for Kentucky’s second national title.”
You can see the 1949 NIT Tournament bracket here, and the 1949 NCAA bracket here.
During the 1951 trial, New York State Supreme Court Judge Saul Streit stated that he,”found covert subsidization of players, ruthless exploitation of athletes, cribbing at examinations, and ‘illegal’ recruiting” among other things. Streit also stated that Rupp, “failed in his duty to observe the amateur rules”.
Following the results of the trial, the NCAA canceled Kentucky’s 1952-53 season; and Groza, Beard, Barnstable, and Spivey were banned from the NBA.
It has been almost 60 years since the New York District Attorney’s investigation of Kentucky basketball, but college hoops fans would do well to remember that Memphis’ all-time conference winning streak is not the only one with a question mark before they point the finger of shame at the Bluff City. Not only was the old record tainted with the fingerprints of a historic points-shaving scandal that resulted in the NCAA’s first death penalty, but the Wildcats were also found guilty of multiple counts of the very same allegation that Memphis faces today–in Judge Streit’s words, “cribbing at examinations”.
If the NCAA Appeals Committee does revoke the Tigers’ 19 Conference USA wins from 2007-2008, the record that both schools now share –and the coach who lead to it– will ironically, both, be back in Lexington. And if they don’t, it won’t be the first time that “the streak” was mired in controversy.