Don’t wait for it.
The fact that sixth-seeded UCLA started off in Vegas sports books as a brow-raising 2 ½-point underdog against No. 11 seed Minnesota in Friday’s second-round game in Austin, Tex. — and then the line was then pushed to a 3 once bettors started laying money — has become an intriguing angle to this contest.
Those watching on TV, with an office pool bracket in front of them full of red marks following Thursday’s first full day of contests, will likely be aware of what’s going on in relation to a key injury suffered by UCLA’s Jordan Adams during the Pac-12 tournament last Friday.
But try tying that into why the Bruins have become a real gamble among Vegas bettors, and the odds are real that someone at the NCAA, or an advertiser, or at the very least a network exec will become the ones most upset.
With all the high-speed media technology available to find info like that – except during the course of the live televised game itself – does it seem we reached a point where we can stop pretending this point-spread elephant in the room doesn’t exist, even if you’re treading into quasi-amateur college sports territory littered with NCAA-sponsored anti-gambling PSAs?
“I can see why they don’t want that information out there, but it’s hypocrisy for the NCAA, especially since it doesn’t cost them any money,” said Pregame.com’s RJ Bell, the popular media go-to Vegas-based betting expert.
“There was once the classic question asked to NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle: If you could eliminate all sports betting, would you? For anyone with a financial interest in it, the only answer is ‘no.’
“But here, like in the NCAA, they get the best of both worlds. They can act indignant, but they still cash the checks driven by sports betting. It’s crazy for them to do anything else, but it’s nothing less than pure hypocrisy.”
Bell’s calculation is that the madness of the event will lead to $12 billion wagered on it around the world via all vehicles – including office pools, off-shore betting and illegal bookies. Some industry estimates are that the overall handle legally bet on the games in Las Vegas could reach $100 million, surpassing the record of $98.8 million wagered on the last Super Bowl.
By no miscalculation in scheduling, Colin Cowherd’s syndicated ESPN Radio show brought Bell into the conversation this morning less than 10 minutes before the first games’ tipoffs to crunch numbers on bracket-pick tips.
Bell’s analysis: “If UCLA wins, you’re going to hear a lot about an upset, but Vegas is saying no.”
Sal Iacono, aka “Cousin Sal” from ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” show, calls UCLA-Minnesota a “coin flip,” and perhaps you’ll see more of his prognostications on the Grantland.com website, where he’s become a resident currency tosser.
Grantland.com editor Bill Simmons has called Iacono “one of the great gamblers of all time, or at least one of the least successful.” It’s with that tongue-in-cheek approach that perhaps Iacono, as others have tried in the past, to get away with letting their picks known to the TV audience.
“Maybe the NCAA has to pretend to be more sensative to it and be more righteous, but I think we try to do it all with a wink,” said Iacono, who said his entry point into gambling came from watching his Aunt Chippy play video poker and offering her advice, which led to him as a 6-year-old emptying out the school playground by flipping baseball cards.
“I wish we could all come clean with it, but I understand how it works and try not to cross any line. The biggest concern is the information can be taken out of context, that I’m gambling through illegal means. That’s certainly not the case.”
Simmons, meanwhile, sat at home in L.A. today and led a four-man Grantland.com live podcast, viewable through the site’s YouTube Channel. He made it clear that “gambling advice and discussion will be legal during the live streaming. It’s all good. We’re going to talk about the stuff that we talk about as we watch these games.”
Iacono’s TV gaming career goes back to teaming up with Kimmel on picking NFL games for Fox’s pregame show more than a decade ago. They’ve continued to give picks through skits on Kimmel’s late-night show, all the while wary of how ABC execs interpret it.
Iacono has also been involved in celebrity-driven fantasy sports leagues and now helps promote a site called FightClub.com. There, contestants can put up money, get matched up against an opponent, pick five players from NCAA tournament games that day, and win the bet if they have the best combined stats. The process is set up to avoid government shutdown related to how online poker companies have been taken to task in recent years.
Pushing that fine line on hiding betting lines when college kids are involved may be sheer fantasy for some – even as more college students find it easier to watch tournament games on their iPhones and toggle over to sites to find odds and make wagers.
“We’ll always be referred to as ‘what the experts say’ or ‘what our friends in the desert say’,” said Bell. “It’s pretty clear that with every passing year, the prevalence of odds as part of the conversation grows. It’s is really unstoppable at this point.”
== Forbes.com on whether NCAA online pools are legal.