The period between the Super Bowl and the start of March Madness is generally dull for sports betting operators with few high-profile events, as the NBA and NHL trudge through the heart of their respective regular seasons.
Sportsbooks attempt to fill the void with lower-handle events from niche sports such as the Daytona 500 in NASCAR and the Australian Open in tennis, the sport’s first grand slam of the calendar year. But in February, legal sportsbooks across Colorado began accepting wagers in one sport that typically competes in the fall: FCS college football.
Formerly known as the NCAA’s Division I-AA in football, the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) moved the 2020-21 season to the spring semester due to widespread COVID-19 concerns. The three-month regular season will last through mid-April before the playoffs begin on April 18. On Feb. 11, the Colorado Division of Gaming approved a request from sportsbook operators, adding FCS football to its Catalog of Events and Wagers.
During the first two weeks of the regular season, Colorado sportsbooks have reported varying results in terms of FCS handle. Although FCS has not been the company’s largest driver among Colorado offerings, PointsBet has still seen a “healthy amount of action” on the sport, spokesman Pat Eichner told CoBets. For instance, since Feb. 13 when McNeese State outlasted Tarleton State 40-37 in double-overtime, FCS has attracted more betting interest than table tennis, NASCAR, and boxing, Eichner added.
The metrics bode well for the overall FCS handle throughout the spring considering that customers wagered more than $40 million on table tennis over the first six months of legal sports betting across the state.
Top turnover matchups at PointsBet
- Tarleton State (-5.5) at New Mexico State, Feb. 20. Approximately 85% of the spread handle consisted of wagers on Tarleton State, which went on to cover and win outright, 43-17.
- Austin Peay (-6.5) at Tennessee Tech, Feb. 21. About 61% of the spread handle featured bets on Austin Peay, which ultimately lost, 27-21.
- Youngstown State (+27.5) at North Dakota State, Feb. 21. A lopsided 91% of all spread wagers were placed on the Bisons, who won, 25-7, but failed to cover.
Though PointsBet offered wagering on FCS in six states last weekend, Colorado is the only jurisdiction where bettors have beaten the book. Overall, FCS has been a small winner for PointsBet nationwide, Eichner noted.
Beyond PointsBet, others aren’t quite as bullish on spring college football at the FCS level. At Betfred Sports, the handle on FCS football ranked fifth last weekend behind NCAA college basketball, the NBA, the NHL and tennis, Betfred USA COO Bryan Bennett told CoBets. Betfred offered a promotion last weekend where customers who bet at least $50 on an FCS game received $30 in bonus cash, he said. While the promotion did fairly well, Betfred likely won’t offer it again for the upcoming weekend, Bennett added.
Thought you'd have to wait until September for 🏈 action? We have good news.
Spring football kicks off with a full FCS slate this weekend — and yes, odds are available 👀
— RotoGrinders Sports Betting (@RGSportsBetting) February 19, 2021
Handle for FCS football may be hampered somewhat by the fact that Northern Colorado (UNC), the state’s lone FCS team, is not playing in the spring. Betfred also operates in Iowa, a state with regional interest in FCS teams such as Northern Iowa, South Dakota State, and North Dakota.
“There isn’t any local interest in Colorado since UNC isn’t playing. However, in Iowa there are a lot of local teams and FCS received even less interest,” Bennett said.
Similarly, the action has been very light at SuperBook Sports, a Colorado newcomer. One impediment, according to SuperBook Vice President Race & Sports Operations Jay Kornegay, is that most fans simply don’t realize there is college football being played at this time of the year.
“If the games could be available for the fans, the action (in this case) would increase 500%,” Kornegay wrote in an email to CoBets. “Fans want to follow their wagers and if they can’t, they’re going to another sport so they can.”
By comparison, the return of the XFL last February was highly anticipated, notes DraftKings executive Johnny Avello, with every game shown on a national broadcast network. Overall, DraftKings wrote about twice the number of tickets on the XFL in the same weekend in 2020 as it did for FCS games last week.
For the opening weekend of FCS, Colorado was in the bottom half of action taken on DraftKings’ network, Avello told CoBets. Avello has served as DraftKings’ director of race and sports operations since October 2018.
A perennial powerhouse
It does not appear that any book has futures on the FCS national champion at the moment. North Dakota State, an FCS perennial powerhouse, will be without quarterback Trey Lance for the spring campaign.
Lance, a projected first-round NFL Draft pick, has opted out for the spring season as he prepares for the draft. The last (and only) first-round pick out of North Dakota State was Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in 2016. North Dakota State has won the FCS National Championship in three straight seasons and seven of the last eight dating to 2011.
Already holding the FCS record with 39 straight wins, North Dakota State will seek to tie the 1908-14 Washington teams for the second-longest Division I winning streak on Saturday at Southern Illinois. Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak from 1953-57 is the longest in D-I history.
— FCS Football (@FCS_STATS) February 22, 2021
Jill R. Dorson contributed to this article