It was the first domino no one in college football or the sports betting industry wanted to see fall, but both the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced Tuesday they are postponing their respective 2020-21 fall sports seasons — including football — due to the ongoing health and safety concerns created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision by the two conferences puts pressure on the other three Power 5 leagues in college football — the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12, and Southeastern Conference — to reach a decision in either direction. The Big Ten was the first to make an announcement on Tuesday afternoon, and the Pac-12 followed suit about an hour later. Both postponed all fall sports, and multiple published reports have the SEC leaning toward playing in the fall.
That leaves the ACC and Big 12 to determine whether there will be any sort of college football before the end of the calendar year, with some reports stating the Big 12 is leaning toward playing in the fall.
Big Ten: ‘Too much uncertainty’
“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott echoed Warren’s sentiments.
“The health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports has been our number one priority since the start of this current crisis,” Scott said in a statement released by the conference. “Our student-athletes, fans, staff and all those who love college sports would like to have seen the season played this calendar year as originally planned, and we know how disappointing this is.”
The COVID-19 pandemic shuttered most professional and college sports beginning in mid-March, which resulted in the cancellation of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, one of the biggest events annually in sports betting. Only recently have professional sports returned to action, with sportsbook operators seeing a gradual rise in overall handle compared to the spring.
This stadium, and others in the Big Ten, will remain empty the rest of this year. 2020, man. pic.twitter.com/jLSwLCmMXi
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 11, 2020
Sportsbooks adjusting on the fly
DraftKings has removed Big Ten and Pac-12 futures offerings from its sportsbook, while FanDuel, PointsBet, and FOX Bet appear to have removed most of their college football offerings at the time of this writing.
BetMGM does not appear to be offering any college football futures, but it still has individual game lines with Sept. 3 as the season’s scheduled start date. BetMGM still had more than 90 single-game offerings on the board as of Tuesday evening, including Army-Navy on Dec. 12, with the Midshipmen as six-point favorites.
“I feel badly for the conferences, teams and players that won’t have the opportunity to play at this time,” DraftKings Head of Sportsbook Johnny Avello told Sports Handle via text. “I look forward to when they decide to return. Meanwhile, we at DraftKings will continue to provide substantial content to our patrons.”
DraftKings is still offering futures on the three conferences that have yet to announce their plans, listing Oklahoma (-125) as the favorite in the Big 12, Alabama (-143) as the team to beat in the SEC and College Football Playoff runner-up Clemson (-455) as a staggering favorite to repeat as ACC winner.
FOX Bet, meanwhile, is still offering futures for six conferences, including the aforementioned three leagues. In addition, FOX Bet has futures on the American Athletic Conference, where Central Florida is a heavy favorite at +150, as well as Conference USA and the Sun Belt Conference. Defending Sun Belt champion Appalachian State (-133) is favored to win its third consecutive conference title, while UAB is the top choice in C-USA, with odds of +300.
For the moment, PointsBet USA decided to pull all college football markets in light of Tuesday’s news. A company spokesman said PointsBet will void all Big Ten and Pac-12 wagers, including bets on potential Heisman candidates (i.e. Ohio State’s Justin Fields), conference winners, and the like.
“We have pulled all markets related to CFB, be it conference futures and lookahead lines on marquee matchups, etc.,” said PointsBet USA spokesman Pat Eichner. “We’ll continue to monitor the news closely and respond accordingly as soon as there is some clarity.”
BetMGM Director of Communications and Public Relations Elisa Richardson said: “With Heisman futures, we will honor any that play during the season and refund those that do not take part in the 2020 season, despite being an All-In Betting market.”
Whether there will even be a Heisman winner would seem an open question.
There is no denying a fall without college football would have a huge impact on sports betting overall and on a state-by-state basis where it is legal. In fact, losing two of the Power 5 will have a major impact.
Last September, Nevada customers wagered $377.5 million on college and pro football, representing about 69% of the state’s overall sportsbook handle. Figures on Nevada’s breakdown between the pro and college football monthly handle are not publicly available.
Impact on Midwestern sportsbooks
Iowa and Indiana — which both legalized sports wagering in 2019 and are home to several Big Ten schools — could also have their sportsbooks profoundly impacted. While not specifically divided into college and pro football, the Indiana Gaming Commission reported the sport generated a cumulative handle of nearly $180 million in the final four months last year after accepting sportsbooks took their first legal wagers in September. Despite Tuesday’s announcement, South Bend-based and traditional independent Notre Dame will attempt to navigate a schedule of exclusively ACC opponents.
The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission does not break out handle by sport. Iowa, which doesn’t have a team in the NBA, NFL, MLB, or NHL, is home to two teams that play in Power 5 conferences — Iowa in the Big Ten and Iowa State in the Big 12.
It's become abundantly clear the sport's leaders have spent astonishingly little time the last five months considering how a spring season would work.
Fortunately I did it for them last month. Kickoff Super Bowl weekend, title game May 3.https://t.co/YhDXTMmDI1
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) August 11, 2020
The Pac-12’s cancellation will be a blow to Colorado sports betting, which launched on May 1 and reported a cumulative handle of nearly $65 million in the first two months. The University of Colorado, which joined the Pac-12 in 2011, became the fourth university in the state to suspend the fall season. The Mountain West, which includes Air Force, Colorado State and Colorado College, suspended its fall seasons on Monday.
The Mid-American Conference, which has the bulk of its teams in Ohio and Michigan, made the decision to postpone fall sports on Saturday.
(Matt Rybaltowski contributed to this story)