It’s a big announcement, and it may be just a precursor to more significant changes. Big Ten football, if it happens this year, will only involve conference games. New Jersey online sportsbooks are among the affected parties.
Voided wagers and preparations for less robust handle this fall are among the fallout sportsbook operators are now dealing with. It’s the first sign that one of sports betting’s cash cows may not be available for milking in 2020.
Big Ten college football to be conference-only
If Rutgers has any sports this fall, none of the teams will play games against opponents that aren’t part of the Big Ten. The conference’s leaders announced the decision Thursday (paywall).
The reasoning behind the decision is simple. It’s all about the COVID-19 pandemic. Limiting the schedule to just conference games affords the conference and its members greater flexibility in scheduling if teams can’t play.
Additionally, it affords Big Ten members more control over the risk of contraction. Testing and other protocols differ from conference to conference right now. This move ensures that all teams on the field have similar practices.
It’s important to note the language in the official announcement. The keyword is “if.” There’s no guarantee that fall sports will happen at all this year. The Big Ten merely stated that if they do take place, all competitions will involve only teams in the conference.
That decision alone, even if the conference’s teams do have a fall season this year, is enough to alter plans at NJ sports betting apps. The course correction has already begun.
NJ sportsbooks return wagers for previously scheduled games
While NJ sportsbooks can’t accept bets on Big Ten sports involving Rutgers, they are free to take action on events involving any other Big Ten team as long as those events are not in New Jersey. That includes nearby Maryland and Penn State.
Those aren’t the only Big Ten schools that are popular for wagering purposes in New Jersey, however. According to FanDuel’s Kevin Hennessy, Michigan and Ohio State are very popular teams at both NJ retail and online channels regardless of their opponents.
Both the Buckeyes and Wolverines were set to play early high-profile nonconference games, against Oregon and Washington, respectively. Because of the hype around those contests, FanDuel Sportsbook and other NJ books already had moneyline markets live for those contests.
Hennessy stated that when the conference releases an updated schedule, FanDuel will void wagers on any games that are not part of the new slate. PointsBet has confirmed that it will do the same thing.
While having to refund those wagers is a bad situation in and of itself, the prospect of a limited schedule at best puts a damper on what is usually the most lucrative time of the year for NJ sportsbook apps. Frankly put, the available options for bettors could be very lean.
If the trend continues, NJ sportbooks might have to get creative
The Big Ten’s decision comes just a few days after the Ivy League postponed its sports for the rest of the year. There are also reports that the Pac-12 will follow the Big Ten’s lead soon (paywall).
It’s hard to estimate how significant the loss of handle would be for NJ sportsbooks under the multiple scenarios in play right now. The best-case scenario at this point, with Power 5 conferences still playing football this fall but with limited schedules, would obviously limit that loss compared to a postponement of all college football.
With so much uncertainty, it’s also difficult for sportsbook operators to form a strategy for replacing any lost handle. For example, will they wait until the day of a game to post odds boosts to make sure the game is actually happening and thereby sacrifice a lot of the marketing potential?
The situation has ramifications for bettors as well. Will they punt on better odds early in the week to make sure the games they wager on take place? If there’s no college football at all, will bettors adapt to handicapping other sports?
The circumstances surrounding Big Ten football this year are volatile. Bettors and sportsbooks in NJ are in the unenviable position of having to adapt on the fly.