Sports Book Scene

By Buzz Daly
Special to The Sports Network

Purists Fume Over Lame Bowl Games,
While Bettors Focus on Picking Winners

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    Buzz Daly
    (Sports Network) - "A game isn't boring when you hang a number on it." Jimmy Vaccaro

    That was the Las Vegas sports betting icon's response to me years ago when I mentioned that a certain match up wasn't very interesting. Vaccaro was oblivious to the merits of a game per se. He was only concerned with how the outcome of a game could be made profitable by accurate analysis of the point spread. It doesn't matter if it is the Super Bowl, or a game between two teams who are O'fer the season.

    Bettors, of course have a much different outlook than sports purists, who think wagering on sporting events is blasphemous. That is a standard attitude for many sports fans. I don't wish to belittle them; merely, to point out an alternate point of view.

    With the announcement of this season's bowl game schedule, it seems some purists are upset with the lineup. Perhaps the stiffest criticism came from Associated Press columnist Paul Newberry, who characterized this year's games as "high-def ugliness." In case that wasn't strong enough, the writer said the games were just "a bunch of meaningless contests between mediocre teams."

    In a burst of creativity, he suggested the bowl schedule "makes Honey Boo Boo look like Downton Abbey. Call it Must-Miss TV," the columnist huffed. I'm not going to rag on his opinion that are just too many games that are either blatant mismatches or examples of teams not ready for prime time and hardly worthy of playing in a bowl game.

    That mindset is pretty common among purists, who refuse to bet on games because they consider competition to be majestic. Presumably, the contests are similar to duels between gentlemen, with winning the equivalent to upholding one's honor. Of course, Newberry cites the usual clich? about deserving teams being overlooked while pretenders made the cut. It happens every year.

    The column concludes by offering a hope that the meaningless games will wither and die if fans stop watching and buying tickets. It is a perfect example of the well intentioned but ultimately arrogant observations of folks who do not bet.

    Punters also see some games as mismatches, and some that feature undeserving teams. But rather than kvetch about it, they look for vulnerable point spreads. A matchup might not be pretty, well played, or even competitive. But that doesn't matter if a bettor can sniff out some soft lines that are beatable.

    Purists, of course, generally assume point spreads are designed to pinpoint the winner of a game by a certain margin. And of course, that is absolutely erroneous. The purpose of the point spread is to evenly divide the money that is wagered on a game. Hence the line movement that takes place as action comes in. But theory notwithstanding, the books generally make a profit by winning decisions.

    There are two primary pools of money that bookmakers handle: sharp and square. The public has a significant bias towards favorites, and if a sports book's clientele is heavily weighted towards casual bettors, its lines will be skewed so that it charges a premium to bettors who play the chalk.

    Professionals look for overlays (or underlays) that are created by the oddsmaker or subsequent public money. When sharps consider the line on a game to be out of whack, they will "buy back" the other side, generally the dog. The books manage their liability by moving the line according to the action. However, they also move the spread based on respect for certain players. A square can bet five dimes on a game, and the line won't budge. But if a sharp bets a nickel, it could move the number.

    Adding to the overall volatility of point spreads is the manipulative machinations of professionals and betting syndicates. These jokers know that lots of players follow their selections. So early in the week, they instigate movement on games by making large bets which cause the number to move. When the "followers" add their action, the numbers move even more. Then, later in the week, generally on game day, the sharps come back with even heavier action on the other side of some of those games. This lets them get the benefit of line movement on the side they really want.

    Lots of bettors track line movement, but lack the ability to know whether it is created by sharps or caused by the public's infatuation with a team.

    The bowl game lines have been up for a short time, but already there have been several line moves. There is one game that I have taken advantage of at an attractive number. UCLA opened as a two-point fav over Baylor. I got on Baylor at +1, and it is now down to pick.

    Some might say UCLA was a false favorite. Or maybe syndicate money moved the number with the idea of backing the Bruins getting points instead of laying. Not my concern. I believe the Bears will crush UCLA. There are several other games just begging for support by bettors. Jump on them now, before the wise guys squeeze out most of the value.

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    Copyright 2012

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