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COVID-19 Season Cancellations Make A Mess Of College Football Betting

Ross Everett
by in NCAAF on
  • The prospect of playing college football this fall is looking increasingly dim.
  • The Pac-12 and Big Ten have already cancelled their 2020 fall season along with a number of lower tier conferences.
  • The uncertainty over the 2020 fall college football season has serious repercussions for sportsbooks worldwide.

At this point, no one has a clue about the 2020 fall college football season. There will be little if any action in the lower divisions with most of the conferences at the FCS level along with Divisions II and III ‘opting out’ of the fall season. At the FBS level, a number of conferences have cancelled or postponed their fall 2020 schedules with the Big Ten and Pac-12 being the most significant. For now, the SEC, ACC and Big 12 are planning to play though that could change between now and the start of the season. Were that not enough chaos there is a backlash to the Big Ten’s cancellation with parents and players looking for a way to force the conference to reconsider their plans.

The chaotic state of college football has reverberated well beyond the sports world. One place where it has significant impact is the sportsbook–most bookmakers worldwide have taken college football futures off the board for the simple reason that nobody knows what is going on or what will happen next. This is definitely the case in Nevada where Westgate Superbook vice president of risk Ed Salmons explained the situation to the Las Vegas Review Journal:

“Everything is down because we don’t know what happens next. Will all the good players transfer? Will they change the playoff format?”

Sportsbooks also face the potential of a huge revenue hit with college football potentially shut down. To their credit, they’ve done well creating betting markets for Korean baseball, table tennis and esports but for US facing bookmakers there’s no doubt that football is king. In Nevada, gaming regulators don’t separate college and NFL football in revenue reports though most industry experts suggest that college football accounts for 40% of all total football action. The NFL is considering moving more games from Sunday to Saturday if college football is cancelled which helps to some extent. Westgate sportsbook director John Murray says that there’s a big difference between ‘postponing’ the season and ‘cancelling’ the season:

“The real question is, are they postponing it or canceling it? Because if they postpone it until the spring, I don’t think it will be that bad for us,. As long as we got college football in the spring, theoretically we’d get our handle back in the spring. That wouldn’t be disastrous.”

“But if they outright cancel it like March Madness, that will be very, very bad.”

The Westgate wrote special rules for their college football futures to account for at least some of the uncertainty:

The Westgate wrote rules on its 2020 college football futures that the season must be completed by August 2021 for action on conference title odds, national championship odds and College Football Playoff odds, which are good only for a four-team playoff.

If the season is not finished by August 2021, the wagers will be refunded. Likewise, Heisman Trophy wagers will be honored if the award is presented. If a player opts out of the season or the award isn’t presented, the bets will be refunded.

Some sportsbooks are using the uncertainty to their advantage. BetOnline.ag is offering betting markets on whether or not the Big Ten or Pac-12 will play any games during Spring 2021. Right now, it doesn’t look good–the ‘No’ is priced at -650 for the Big Ten and -800 for the Pac-12.

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