By Buzz Daly
Special to The Sports Network
NFL Coaches rage, bettors holler, as replacement Refs lay an egg
Betting on sports in general, and football in particular requires a strong stomach, a sense of irony and an ability to deal with some of the most incomprehensible twists of fate that the meanest, most sadomasochistic Satan could ever invent. Yes, being a glutton for punishment helps.
It is also an unsettling truism that one bettor's bad beat is another's miracle win. The line between them is microscopic and the timing is measured in nanoseconds. But when destiny intervenes and determines who cashes a ticket and who tears up a loser, it is unusually cruel when the cause is attributable to human error. A bad bounce is one thing, but an obvious mistake that goes uncorrected is the height of frustration.
After three weeks, the National Football League's race to the Super Bowl is underway. With only a 16-game schedule, each decision is crucial. Bettors, too, have a lot riding on each game. But what has transpired so far is a disgraceful comedy of errors owing to a lockout of veteran officials who have the audacity to suggest the league increase their pay and benefits, and also treat them as professionals. The absence of these "zebras" is having a cataclysmic effect on the way the games are played as well as the results.
But secure in their knowledge that they wield the economic "hammer", NFL suits continue to play hardball and insist the game is just fine with the replacement refs. Despite running one of the most successful business models in the country, the league says it cannot afford to meet the demands of the officials. The league is delusional. Commissioner Roger Goodell must be wearing blinders when watching games, or else is so heavily sedated, he doesn't notice what everyone else does.
If the past weekend's spectacle of scab referees performing like Keystone Cops wasn't bad enough, how about Monday Night's debacle? That little gem cost the Green Bay Packers a victory due to a botched game-ending call in the end zone. It also cost Vegas bettors who were heavily invested in the Pack.
You might think the NFL would have a vested interest in fixing the problem created by well-intentioned but overmatched replacement officials. Boy, would you be wrong. Lacking incentive to correct the obvious train wreck that is on display, the NFL dispenses the usual bromides about how satisfied it is with the calls on the field, and that they are working with the refs to help them improve. Hypocrisy is alive and well in NFL headquarters. So is lying through their pearly whites.
Despite what is arguably the mother of all NFL officiating screw ups Monday night, there is no relief in sight. The stadiums continue to be SRO, the humongous TV contracts are in place, ratings are not being affected and it is not likely anyone except maybe players and coaches would go on strike to bring back the professional referees. Stonewalling the cacophony of criticism and suffering no economic penalties, the NFL continues to dispense propaganda and whistle past the graveyard.
If the product the NFL puts out on the field and broadcasts into our living rooms was subject to a consumer product recall, it would not only be recalled, it would be vaporized and every foot of tape documenting the crimes would be destroyed.
No point in citing all the ludicrous happenings of the past weekend. Chances are you saw the same things I did. Coaches cannot speak their minds under penalty of costly fines and possible suspension if they criticize the replacement refs. But former Cowboys QB Troy Aikman, who is also a TV analyst, tweeted, "These games are a joke." After MNF's robbery of the Packers, color analyst and former NFL coach Jon Gruden added his disgust and called the outcome "a joke."
Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, If there is one thing that gives bookmakers sleepless nights, it is unknown factors that just cannot be quantified in the handicapping process. If an injury to a key player causes doubt as to the chances of his playing, or weather that could impact the way a game is played is unclear, the books simply take the contest off the board. It reappears when the unknown element has been clarified.
Bookmakers take their biggest action on sports with the highest degree of credibility. This factors in quality of the games and reliability of the officiating. So NFL football and Major League Baseball generally offers bettors the highest limits. In addition to the authenticity of the games, the overall interest of the betting public is crucial, which is why hockey and soccer are not among elite wagering events in the U.S.
This past week, Vegas oddsmakers said publicly they were adjusting NFL lines with expectations of higher scoring, courtesy of the replacement officials. One sports book gave home teams an additional half-point in their favor, based on how the games have been called so far. In week 2, home teams went 11-4 after going 8-8 in week one.
According to R.J. Bell, a betting authority who runs pregame.com, the books expected the games in week 3 to average 46 points, the highest projected total ever, he said. Bookmakers rely on bettors who play totals to generally favor overs.
Perversely, and consistent with the capriciousness of the betting gods, 10 NFL games went under and only six were over this past week. Adding to the woes of bettors, favorites were 5-11 against the spread. The result: Fat City for the books; bettors take the gas pipe.
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