Roth, Al : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Roth, Al

Alvin Roth

Nicknamed "Fats," Roth was a member of the 1950 City College of New York (CCNY) basketball team that was the only team in history to win both the NIT and NCAA tournaments in the same season. A starting guard as a sophomore, Roth played in all 29 games during the 1950 season, averaging 6.4 points per game. He scored five points in the NCAA championship game and averaged 3.0 points per game during the NCAA tournament. He also averaged 3.2 points per game in the NIT. Along the way, City defeated the No. 12, No.6, No. 5, No. 3, No.2, and No. 1 teams in the country, and beat top-ranked Bradley in both title games. The 1949-50 CCNY team was inducted into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994.

In 1951, however, the reputation of Roth and the great CCNY team was shattered. On February 18, Roth and teammates Ed Warner and Ed Roman (captain) were arrested in Penn Station on charges of bribery after returning from Philadelphia where CCNY had defeated Temple, 95-71. The three City players, along with Irwin Dambrot, Norm Mager, and Herb Cohen were all arrested and charged in connection with the point-shaving scandal that rocked college basketball in 1951.

In all, 32 players from seven schools (including national powerhouses New York University, Long Island University, and Kentucky) had conspired to fix 86 games between 1947 and 1950. CCNY had lost five games during the 1949-50 season, and it was discovered that three of those defeats had been fixed. The NBA banned each of the players involved in the scandal, and while most of the young men received suspended sentences, Roth was sentenced to 6 months in a workhouse; his sentence was suspended when he entered the army. The scandal damaged college basketball. While the sport itself survived, New York college basketball never fully recovered. Although the 1950 CCNY squad is still regarded as one of the greatest college teams ever, the taint of scandal tints its glory.

Birth and Death Dates:

Career Highlights:
Roth, a New York City native, led Erasmus High School to the PSAL title in 1948 as a senior. Although he received scholarship offers from around the country, Roth felt obligated to remain in New York City because of his immigrant parents (who kept a kosher home). In 1949, he enrolled at CCNY (City College of New York) alongside Ed Warner, Floyd Layne, Ed Roman, and Herb Cohen. The five sophomores were considered the greatest recruiting class in the school's history.

After dominating their opponents as freshmen in 1949 (they could not play on the varsity), Roth and his classmates joined the City varsity team in 1950. Alongside seniors Irwin Dambrot and Norm Mager, the sophomores quickly made their mark, as Roth, Warner, Layne, and Roman all started (Dambrot was the only senior starter). Roth, who was neither quick nor a great shooter, was nonetheless a great passer who kept the team steady in times of trouble. In their first two games, they defeated Queens College by 46 and Lafayette by 32 and were heralded in the press as one of the best teams in the country.

With Roth in control of the team on the floor, the City team, possibly the best shooting team in the nation at the time, won its first five games. In the sixth game, however, they lost to Oklahoma, 67-63. The Beavers then defeated California (76-26), before losing to UCLA, 60-53, in what was later discovered to be a 'dumped' game. Late season losses to Canisius (53-49) and Niagara (68-61) threatened City's postseason chances, but the players then decided to play legitimately, and defeated New York rivals St. John's, Fordham, Manhattan, and NYU to finish the regular season, 17-5.

On the strength of their victories over their New York City rivals, CCNY was given the final bid to the NIT, which at the time was considered the top postseason tournament. In the first round, the Beavers defeated defending champion San Francisco, 65-46. Then they took on national powerhouse Kentucky and destroyed the Wildcats by a score of 89-50, with Roth contributing nine points and five assists. In the semifinals, Roth served up ten assists in City's 62-52 win over Duquesne, and then scored six points in the NIT final as CCNY defeated Bradley, 69-61.

Following their NIT triumph, the City team was celebrated at on-campus rallies and feted throughout New York City. The team was invited to play in the NCAA tournament. Suddenly, the CCNY squad was considered a major force in college basketball. They confirmed all expectations by claiming the NCAA crown as well. In the tournament, City defeated Ohio State, North Carolina State, and Bradley (again). Roth and his sophomore classmates, along with Dambrot and Mager, accomplished what no other team in history had: the Grand Slam of college basketball.

During the 1950-51 season, Roth and his teammates continued to dump basketball games and had compiled a record of 12-7 when "Fats" and the other dumpers were arrested. Roth confessed to everything and joined the army in a plea bargain to avoid jail time. He later played in the Eastern League (the guilty players were banned from ever playing in the NBA), and went to business school at CCNY. After his playing career ended, Roth sold insurance in a suburb north of New York City.

New York City

Career Dates:
Roth played guard for CCNY from 1949-1951.

Physical description:
6'4", 210 pounds

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encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
Scandals of '51: How Gamblers Almost Killed College Basketball, by Charley Rosen (New York: Seven Stories Press, 1999)