College sports have had a rough season so far. The pandemic interrupted many leagues’ season in spring 2020. And throughout the summer, there was hope for fall sports to return.
But those hopes seem to be dashed anew every week. The Pac-12, AAC, and Big Ten have all cancelled the rest of their seasons. While some leagues are hopeful about spring sports, some analysts are pessimistic about college sports returning without a vaccine.
In the meantime, sportsbooks are caught in the middle. Oddsmakers have to keep up with the ever-changing college sports environment. Everyone from coaches to campus administrators can affect whether their school’s college team will play. Their coronavirus responses have far-reaching implication for Colorado sportsbooks. Here are some of the changes college sports will force sportsbooks to adopt as they manage the virus.
Sportsbooks Deleting Lines–And Offering New Ones
There can’t be bets on a game’s outcome without games. As college sports leagues cancel games, sportsbooks will also have to delete lines. For example, DraftKings’ college football lines are sparse, even though six leagues still plan to play this Fall. The Georgia/Arkansas game on September 26th doesn’t even have moneylines yet. They’ve only got point spread odds.
However, even that’s an improvement over FanDuel. FanDuel only offers spreads on seven SEC Week 1 games. Its futures section is sparsely populated, too. SEC, Big 12, and ACC winners are the only categories of futures available for college football on FanDuel.
It seems that oddsmakers are hedging their bets before committing to odds on each game. Logistically, it would be a poor use of time to put bets together only to refund stakes. Especially when those refunds are predictable. It also keeps oddsmakers from being spread too thin, so they can focus on the events that are more likely to play out.
For example, BetMGM offered two lines on Uruguay basketball on August 18. Sure, it’s not the NCAA men’s tournament. But for bettors just looking to place a bet, it was a current event that was certain to occur. That allows oddsmakers to generate odds–and revenue–for their sportsbooks.
As bettors browse their sportsbooks, they’ll find a smaller selection of college sports lines. Bettors will also find a few international leagues, similar to what sportsbooks offered at the height of social distancing. They may not be college leagues, but sportsbooks may need international events to supplement college sports cancellations.
The Two Most Vulnerable Types Of Bets During The 2020 College Season
Sportsbook content will change as college sports decide whether to play in the Fall. However, there are two types of bets that are particularly vulnerable to changes: futures bets and prop bets.
Futures bets wager on concluding season events. Think of things like championship winners and MVP picks that are hard to predict. (How often do you think +5,000 odds payout?) These are the kinds of long-term bets that depend primarily on team performances.
That makes futures vulnerable to team and league cancellations. The Pac-12 cancelled its season, so there won’t be any futures on Buffs football. However, the entire league didn’t have to cancel for the Buffs to be removed from Colorado sportsbooks. If the Buffs had decided to halt their season on their own, their entry would’ve been removed from the futures section. Anyone who’d placed a futures bet on the Buffs would’ve had their stake refunded.
Award winners will be hard to pick at the end of the season. Any player who opts out of their season also takes themselves out of Colorado’s sportsbooks. Not every player is up for an MVP award.
However, those who are just as susceptible to the coronavirus as the rest of us. They probably won’t go on ventilators, but they’ll be out of the game for at least a week and a half. Then they’ll have to retrain to be as competitive as they were before getting sick. Even if a star player and their team make up for lost time, that player’s chances of winning a championship decrease dramatically after getting sick. That means bettors who place futures have to wager on:
- Players who are likely to win.
- Players who are unlikely to contract the coronavirus.
- Players on teams taking their bubbles seriously.
Futures had long odds before the pandemic, but they’re especially risky with the added variable of COVID-19 infection.
The silver lining for Colorado oddsmakers is prop bets are illegal on college games. Oddsmakers don’t have to worry about creating prop bets for college games.
However, the pandemic could catalyze an effort to change that. Sportsbooks need to keep betting lines open and available to make money. While prop bets aren’t the most popular bets, they are an additional stream of revenue in an uncertain sports environment. College players may need to play to keep their scholarships, so player props could be more reliable than in professional leagues. That could tempt an effort to legalize college prop bets.
However, it could also impact athlete’s performances. If a kicker wanted to cash in on a bet, he could:
- Bet on himself missing a field goal.
- Miss a field goal on purpose.
- Collect his winnings.
The NCAA has strict rules against athletes, coaches, and staff participating in sports betting at all. But allowing prop bets on college games raises ethical concerns about match fixing. However, each athlete’s impact on prop bets is the same thing that would make them risky during the pandemic. One opt-out would mean one deleted line and many refunded bets. Although college prop bets certainly won’t be in sportsbooks during the pandemic, the anxiety about bet scarcity could inspire a push to legalize them during normal times.
Colorado’s Sportsbooks’ Bottom Lines
The ever-changing college sports landscape challenges bettors and oddsmakers alike. Bettors may see their wagers refunded, which is frustrating if they’re confident they’re right–especially on futures bets with long odds. Likewise for oddsmakers, each deleted line and refunded stake is lost revenue. Futures bets may not pay out at the end of the season. However, oddsmakers don’t have to worry about prop bets on college sports. Colorado law already shut that door.
Large changes in college sports could add up to a disaster for sportsbooks’ college sports sections. The current chaos across the college sports landscape is an ill omen for Colorado sportsbooks. As long as the pandemic is raging across America’s campuses, entire sportsbook sections remain at risk.