Sportswriters do not bet on games, for obvious reasons. But I believe most of us, or at least the ones I know, occasionally submit picks in office pools. Entering office betting pools is harmless activity. Much like jaywalking, it is illegal, yet overlooked enough by law enforcement to render the act harmful to no one.
With that in mind, I have submitted my “expert” picks in an NCAA tournament basketball pool just about every March for the past three decades or so. I dare say no other pool entry follows the college game more than me, but I can recall placing in the “money” only a couple of times.
I am worse at college football bowl pools. I do not remember earning a dime of winnings in what might be a bigger crap shoot than the NCAA basketball tournament. This year, I decided to prove that throwing darts at a board is the best way to pick winners in the bowl games. It is that unscientific.
After finishing fifth — and coming close to winning money — in this year’s bowl pool, I came to a conclusion that I have known for a long, long time.
Never bet on sports.
You can study the games from the first kickoff in August until the final conference championship in December, then conduct a cram course of the odds and the edges for all teams, and you have no more chance of winning than someone who draws his picks out of a hat or flips a coin.
I proved it this year by combining both methods of picking winners.
This pool originated out of state and came with a $20 entry fee. There were 25 entries, but only one that did not spend a second trying to figure out which teams would cover point spreads.
Like many such pools, this one called for the entrant to pick against the point spread. In other words, picking the winning team was not enough. You also had to beat the point spread.
Again, like many such pools, this one required that you pick 20 of the 35 games and assign a weighted value to each. So, you place a value of 20 points on the pick you have the most confidence in, and 1 point on the selection you have the least confidence in.
You miss the game, you get no points for that game. You pick the winner — against the spread — and you receive the point value of the game. The person with the most points at the end wins the pool.
First, I had to determine which 20 of the 35 bowl games to select. So, I numbered the bowl games 1 through 35 based on the order in which they were played. The New Mexico Bowl was No. 1 and the BCS national championship game was No. 35.
Then I numbered 35 scraps of paper and tossed them into my brother-in-law’s baseball cap. Another relative held the cap high and I pulled 20 numbers out of the hat.
Those would be the game’s I picked. Turns out that the Military Bowl that pitted Maryland against Marshall was my 20-point game, and the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl between Georgia and Nebraska was my 1-point game.
Next I had to pick the winners. So, I borrowed a quarter — I think it was my brother-in-law who came through again — and began picking. I flipped a coin on every game to determine my winners.
Interestingly enough, my coin toss selected South Carolina taking the 11/2 points against Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl with 2 points of confidence, and Clemson taking the 3 points against Ohio State in the Orange Bowl with 12 points of confidence.
I got both of those games correct because both USC and Clemson beat the point spread. Amazingly enough, I also landed Auburn correctly for 19 points, Central Florida for 17, Oregon for 16, Arizona for 15, San Diego State for 14 and Utah State for 13.
When the national championship game was completed, I finished with 12 correct picks out of 20 and totaled 129 points. The winner correctly picked 16 games and totaled 167 points. I was 15 points shy of placing third and collecting winnings.
Let me give you an example of how luck plays into winning or losing bowl pools. I could have garnered another six points — and perhaps landed in the top three — but the first game of the season cost me. I put six points on Washington State to defeat Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl by more than four points.
Washington State was leading by eight points with two minutes remaining. All the Cougars needed to do was have the quarterback kneel down three times, Washington State wins the game, covers the point spread and I have my six points.
Instead, Washington State handed the ball off to a running back twice and he lost a fumble on the second run. Colorado State scored a touchdown and converted a two-point conversion to tie the game. The Rams then recovered a Washington State fumble on the kickoff, and kicked the game-winning field goal.
That kind of ending to a game is why you should never bet on sports. That, and because a person who draws winners out of a hat and by flipping a coin has as much a chance of picking winners as someone who studies all the angles.