AUBURN, ALABAMA – Federal authorities are investigating suspended Auburn point guard Varez Ward for alleged point shaving involving at least two games this season, Yahoo! Sports reported Thursday.
The report, citing anonymous sources, said the FBI began an investigation in late February, centering on losses to Alabama on Feb. 7 and Arkansas on Jan. 25.
Ward has confided that he spoke with federal authorities and denied the allegations, according to a source familiar with Ward’s side of the story, al.com reported.
Ward also said federal investigators confiscated his phone under court order and had him take a lie-dectector test, the source said, according to the report.
NCAA officials said they are “very concerned” by the allegations and have been in contact with the school and federal investigators since the issue arose last month.
“The NCAA takes any allegation of point shaving very seriously because sports wagering threatens two of our core principles — the well-being of student-athletes and the very integrity of intercollegiate sport,” the NCAA said in a written statement Thursday. “As allegations of point shaving, if proven, are also potential federal crimes, the NCAA will defer action until any process with the FBI has concluded.”
Ward and guard Chris Denson were both suspended before a Feb. 25 game against Arkansas, but Denson returned for the next game. Denson was questioned and cleared of involvement in point shaving, the Yahoo! Sports report said.
“Auburn officials were made aware of a rumor regarding an allegation two weeks ago and immediately reported it to the FBI, the NCAA and the SEC,” Auburn said in a statement Thursday. “Because of the nature of the allegation, Auburn is not in a position to make any further comment on the situation.”
The report said a player reported concerns to an assistant coach in late February.
Auburn coach Tony Barbee has said only that Ward and Denson violated team rules. He declined to specifically address any allegations after Thursday night’s loss to Mississippi in the opening round of the SEC tournament.
“Obviously our university released a statement which I totally support and stand behind, and obviously because of the nature of the allegations and the story, and because of the statement, I won’t be able to elaborate or answer any questions or make any further comment,” Barbee said.
Ward didn’t play in the final three games of the regular season or travel with the team to New Orleans for the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Denson played 32 minutes and scored 11 points Thursday in Auburn’s 68-54 loss to Mississippi, but declined to speak with reporters after the game. His teammates also deferred comments to their coach.
Yahoo! Sports reported that other Auburn players were questioned about whether Ward tried to get them to participate in the alleged point shaving.
Ward, a Texas transfer, has averaged 9 points a game and leads the Tigers in assists.
Ward scored three points and had six turnovers in the 68-50 loss to Alabama, playing 17 minutes. Vegas Insider said Alabama was favored by five points.
In the 56-53 loss to Arkansas, Ward played only 19 seconds before crumpling to the floor with an injury. Barbee later said Ward took a knee to his right leg, which he injured while a sophomore at Texas.
Auburn still covered the 9½-point spread.
Between those two games, Ward had his hottest streak of the season. He scored 53 points in the three-game stretch, including 24 against Mississippi State.
The directors of three sports books in Las Vegas said they have not been contacted by the FBI in connection with the probe, according to al.com.
“We haven’t heard from them about any Vegas action,” one sports book director said on condition of anonymity, according to the report. “If there is something wrong, if something happens here, they’d absolutely be involved. There’s been nothing at this time.”
Ward has not commented publicly since his suspension. He has not responded to requests for comment through his email and Facebook accounts, al.com reported.
His last Twitter post was on Feb. 24 when he tweeted, “Can’t win for losing smh” (shaking my head). It was the last in a series of posts that day, the first saying that his knee was “hurting bad.”
Ward, who is from Montgomery, was injured at Texas when he ruptured his quadriceps tendon on a dunk during pregame warm-ups. He sat out last season under transfer rules and has two years of eligibility remaining.