Sportsbooks Taking Down College Football Lines as Season Uncertainty Looms

  • A cancelled season could mean a loss of $49m in profits for Nevada books
  • Sportsbooks have started taking odds off the board, stocks fluctuating heavily
  • Big Ten and Pac-12 announced on Tuesday that they are postponing all fall sports
sportsbook at Mandalay Bay
As conferences and schools decide whether or not to postpone fall sports because of the pandemic, sportsbooks are taking college football odds off their boards. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Hoping for postponement, not cancellation

Sportsbooks are on edge this week as the specter of a cancelled college football season looms over the industry.

With some conferences and schools having already announced the postponement of fall sports because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the sports world is waiting to find out what the major conferences – the drivers of college football – are going to do. In the meantime, sportsbooks have been taking games off their boards.

Westgate sportsbook director John Murray told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the key distinction will be postponement versus outright cancellation. Some institutions – even down to the high school level – are holding out hope that they can just move fall sports to the spring.

theoretically we’d get our handle back in the spring”

“As long as we got college football in the spring,” Murray said, “theoretically we’d get our handle back in the spring. That wouldn’t be disastrous.”

GCB senior research analyst Michael Lawton told the Review-Journal that college football makes up about 40% of total football wagers; the Nevada Gaming Control Board lumps college and NFL together. When using Nevada’s 2019 numbers of $1.87bn in total football wagers and $122.4m in profit, Nevada sportsbooks could miss out on about $49m in profits if there is no college football season.

Rocky week for sports betting companies

Sports betting-related stocks have been on a rollercoaster ride this week. Conferences began making their postponement announcements over the weekend and rumblings of upcoming decisions by the “Power 5” conferences got louder.

DraftKings, for example, closed at $34.09 per share on Friday and plunged as much as 12% midday Monday before closing at $31.61 – a 7.3% drop. Shares rose above $33 for most of Tuesday afternoon but closed up only slightly at $32.04. Penn National closed at $49.00 on Friday and $45.38 on Monday – almost exactly the same percentage fall as DraftKings. It fared better than its competitor on Tuesday, closing up 2.69% to $46.60.

PointsBet and FanDuel already removed college football odds from their boards as of early Monday afternoon. DraftKings nixed most futures betting, though it left some conference championship odds up until official conference announcements are made.

Rules on partial seasons vary by sportsbook, but the Westgate told the Review-Journal that the season must finish by August 2021 for futures bets to be paid out. Naturally, bets will be refunded if seasons are cancelled. If individual awards like the Heisman Trophy are handed out, even if the season doesn’t finish by the August 2021 deadline, bets will go through as normal. If an award candidate opts out the season, wagers on that player will be refunded.

Dominoes started falling last week

Most schools and conferences had already pushed back the start of football and other fall sports by two to four weeks as they scrambled to come with scheduling and safety plans. The first real domino fell last Wednesday when the University of Connecticut football program announced it was cancelling its 2020 season – the first FBS team to do so.

Nobody wanted to be the first to do it.”

Then, on Saturday, the Mid-American Conference (MAC) voted to postpone all fall sports. Though the MAC is not a “major” conference, its decision may have been what the rest of college football needed to push it in a similar direction. “Nobody wanted to be the first to do it,” one Power 5 coach told ESPN, “and now nobody will want to be the last.”

On Monday, Old Dominion University, also in Conference USA for football with Connecticut, said it has postponed all fall sports because of the pandemic.

Now the heavy hitters

What really rocked the college football world, however, was a report on Monday that the Big Ten – home to such football powers as Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin – voted to postpone its season.

The reports were shot down later in the day, but it turned out they were just slightly premature. On Tuesday afternoon, Big Ten presidents and chancellors voted to postpone all fall sports, with the hope that they can pick back up in the spring.

The Pac-12 was expected to follow suit later on Tuesday, and it did, announcing just before 4:30pm ET, that it, too, is putting fall sports on hold.

The Big 12 is reportedly leaning toward postponement, while the ACC and SEC are so far saying that they still plan on playing this fall.