Less than three weeks before the scheduled start of the 2020-21 college football season, the Colorado sports betting market is still reeling from a major setback on Tuesday when two Power 5 conferences postponed the fall sports schedule for the remainder of the calendar year.
The delay of the Pac-12 football season, combined with the postponement of the Mountain West fall football season a day earlier, sidelines three Colorado Division I football programs – Colorado, Colorado State and Air Force – for the next several months, at a minimum. As of Aug. 12, six states with legal sports betting are home to multiple programs that have seen their football seasons postponed for the fall season. While Colorado trails Michigan, the state leader with five schools sidelined, the Centennial State is tied with Indiana and Illinois for the second spot with three teams each. Colorado sportsbooks continue to prepare for their first autumn of football following the debut of legalized sports betting on May 1.
Both the Pac-12 and the Big Ten postponed their fall sports seasons on Tuesday due to widespread COVID-19 concerns.
“With our launch of sports betting in May, we don’t have a year-over-year comparison to know the impact it will have on the Colorado market,” Colorado Division of Sports Betting spokesperson Suzi Karrer told CoBets. “The return of professional sports has demonstrated that Colorado has a sustainable market moving forward; we do anticipate that college football will have the same impact whenever they get the chance to play.”
Chaotic week for college football
Within a span of 90 minutes, two of the top five conferences in college football postponed their fall seasons amid player-safety concerns. A host of major sportsbook operators — DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, and PointsBet USA — responded by pulling the majority of their college football offerings. The first three went live in Colorado on May 1, while PointsBet maintains its Western U.S. hub in downtown Denver. PointsBet, an Australian sportsbook, is expected to make its Colorado debut in the coming months.
Despite the historic announcements, three others — the SEC, ACC and Big 12 — appear to be moving forward with plans for fall competition. As of Aug. 12, FanDuel, DraftKings, and PointsBet all offered conference futures on the three leagues. Although DraftKings removed most of its college games by then, it still offered lines on two marquee games — Texas-Oklahoma on Oct. 10 and Clemson-Notre Dame on Nov. 7. FanDuel, the arch rival of DraftKings, does not have lines on any single games, for the moment.
BetMGM, on the other hand, still has more than 90 single-game football offerings, including the annual Army-Navy game on Dec. 12. Unlike the others, BetMGM suspended futures for the time being.
Another Colorado sportsbook, Circa Sports, took a similar approach. Concerned with the possibility of a wave of postponements, the sportsbook froze all action on the national championship futures market in late July, Circa Sports Operations Manager Jeffrey Benson told CoBets. Under a revised Pac-12 schedule, Colorado was scheduled to open the season Sept. 26 at defending Pac-12 champion Oregon. But Circa never set a line on the opener, Benson said, before the league canceled the matchup.
Circa Sports, a newcomer to the Rocky Mountain region, expanded outside of Nevada earlier last month when it entered the Colorado market through a partnership with Century Casinos.
Low expectations for the Buffaloes, Rams and Falcons
The loss of two-time All-Pac-12 wide receiver Laviska Shenault, as well as quarterback Steven Montez and wideout Tony Brown, dampened expectations for the Colorado Buffaloes in Coach Karl Dorrell’s first season. Before Tuesday’s announcement, Colorado had odds of 125/1 to win the Pac-12, according to Vegas Insider.com, a global leader in sports gaming information. (Disclaimer: Vegas Insider and CoBets are both owned by Better Collective.) Vegas Insider listed Colorado as the only team with odds above 100/1 to capture the league title.
Karl Dorrell has had a litany of hurdles to jump already, and now he adds a postponed 2020 season to his list of challenges as a first-year head coach at CU.
— Justin Guerriero (@GuerrieroCU) August 12, 2020
Both Colorado and Colorado State were among a contingent of teams with steep odds of 500/1 to win the national championship, prior to the postponements. Air Force, meanwhile, faced a great deal of uncertainty with the departure of top receivers Geraud Sanders and Ben Waters, along with off-field issues surrounding starting quarterback Donald Hammond III. The Falcons had odds of 1,000/1 to capture the national title before the decision from the Mountain West to shutter fall sports.
As a result, betting interest in the local teams may have been tepid regardless.
“From our perspective, if there is some college football, any money that would have been bet on Pac-12 schools will just go to the other conferences,” Betfred USA COO Bryan Bennett told CoBets. “I think Denver, for the most part, is a pro sports town. There will be some noticeable impact, but I don’t think it will be significant long term.”
Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading at William Hill US, said it’s hard to assess whether Colorado bettors would have bet on the local schools at a disproportionate rate this season since the market is so new. He did, however, point to Iowa, where Hawkeyes fans place wagers at William Hill at an elevated rate. William Hill has four physical sportsbook locations in Iowa, where online and mobile sports betting are also legal.
“The Big Ten is king around Iowa and Michigan,” Bogdanovich told CoBets. “But it’s not like we have years of data, since it’s so early in the game, you’re taking away something they never had anyway.”
While Betfred has held internal discussions on how to handle Pac-12 conference futures wagers, the company has not determined if it’s going to refund the bets or extend them into the spring, Bennett said. The conundrum differs slightly from one many books faced in March when the NCAA canceled the Division I Men’s Basketball tournament entirely. Here, the possibility remains that the league could resume football during the spring semester. If a single event is canceled for any reason, Colorado regulations require all wagers to be refunded in full “as soon as reasonably possible.”
House rules from various sportsbooks on voided bets
- Circa Sports: For any event that is deemed “no action,” all wagers will be refunded to the patron upon the presentation of a valid, original betting ticket…All football games must be played within eight days of the originally scheduled date and take place within a 100-mile radius of the originally scheduled venue/site.
- BetMGM: All futures on conferences and teams that don’t take part in the season will be refunded as per BetMGM sportsbook policies.
- DraftKings: In case of an abandoned event, all bet offers that have been decided prior to the abandonment and could not possibly be changed regardless of future events, will be settled according to the decided outcome. Should the abandoned event not resume within 12 hours of its start time, all pending offers related to the event will be settled as void.
- FanDuel: In the event (FanDuel) is prevented from continuing with a promotion by any event beyond its control, including, but not limited to, fire, flood, epidemic, earthquake, explosion, labor dispute or strike, act of God or public enemy…interference with a promotion by any party, or any federal, state, local or provincial government law, order, or regulation, order of any court or jurisdiction, or other cause not reasonably within (FanDuel’s) control (each a “Force Majeure” event or occurrence, FanDuel) shall have the right to modify, suspend or terminate the promotion or bonus.
A “force majeure” is an event that is outside the control of a certain party and prevents the party from fulfilling their “obligations under a contract,” according to Shearman & Sterling, a global law firm that has written extensively on the application of the provision during the COVID-19 outbreak. It is unclear whether a sportsbook has the proper legal grounds to apply the provision to coronavirus-related sports delays.
Colorado Athletic Director Rick George is optimistic that the Pac-12 can resume football in the spring, as well as a litany of other fall sports. Besides football, men’s and women’s cross country, women’s soccer and women’s volleyball have also been suspended at Colorado. CU also has several other cross-over sports that compete in both semesters.
Buffs athletic director Rick George stands by Pac-12 decision to forgo football in the fall because of COVID-19 and is hoping for a spring game in the autumn; new CU coach Karl Dorrell fears some players may transfer out: https://t.co/Ag6F7b4oRe by @SeanKeeler
— Denver Post Sports (@DPostSports) August 12, 2020
“The decision to postpone the fall sports seasons and to delay the start of the winter ones was not made in haste – but in light of current virus trends,” George said in a statement. “We are hopeful that the situation reaches a point where we can have our winter sports start at the first of the year, and perhaps play a modified fall sports schedule in the spring.”