11/30/2005 1:00AM

Instead of split, co-champs get a playoff


LAS VEGAS - The Leroy's College Challenge was a rousing success in its first season.

The contest drew a larger-than-expected field of 364 who put up $250 per entry and made seven picks against the spread the past 12 weeks. They were all shooting for the first prize of $45,500 - half of the $91,000 prize pool - and to be the champion of the inaugural tournament that Leroy's marketing director Jimmy Vaccaro has the dream of putting on TV like all the poker tournaments.

So, it's only fitting that after 12 weeks of competition, there was a tie for first place between contestants named Fezzik and Maj Ent, who will submit seven more plays in a heads-up battle on Saturday's card to determine the champion.

And the differences between the two could not be greater.

Fezzik, 42, is the one-name professional bettor whose public profile has exploded the past few years with appearances in public handicapping contests, newspaper and magazine articles, and his role as seasonal host for Larry Grossman's "You Can Bet On It" radio show. Now he receives attention even when he doesn't want it.

The contestant who goes by the name Maj Ent is 35, lives in California, and is a school teacher, and that's about all he will reveal about himself. He says he views this as a hobby and wants to keep a low profile, and that this was the first handicapping contest he has ever entered.

But, despite their differences, they certainly knew how to pick college football winners this season. They finished with identical records of 56-28 (67 percent).

After the first six weeks of the contest, Fezzik led with a record of 30-12 and Maj Ent was lurking with a record of 26-16. On his website at fezziksplace.com, Fezzik even posted: "I would take 4-3 every week the final six weeks. I'm 30-12 with the lead, and 4-3 every week will almost surely hold up the rest of the tournament vs. the field."

Well, Fezzik outdid himself by going 26-16 - instead of the 24-18 mark that six 4-3 records would have given him - and still wasn't able to hold off the late charge from Maj Ent.

After the final games were completed last Saturday night, Maj Ent actually went to Fezzik's website to offer congratulations. Some discussions ensued, and they decided that it would be fairest to split the first two prizes. There is a dropoff to $9,100 for second place, so each would have received $27,300.

But before a formal deal could be reached, they were informed of contest rule No. 8, which states: "If ties exist for first place when the Challenge ends, the champion will be determined based on an additional playoff week."

The Gaming Control Board makes sure everyone follows the rules, so a playoff there will be.

"Any time you do anything new, if you don't do everything you say you're going to do, there could be problems," said Vaccaro, who admitted he doesn't mind the added publicity. "A playoff gives us an extra week to talk about it.

"But basically, if two people or 10 people were tied, we had to do the playoff. We have to pay the winner as it's deemed and fill out the proper forms. We're just following the letter of the law."

One need only imagine the paper trail the Gaming Control Board requires in such matters (not to mention the IRS).

Both had discussed online that they would prefer to just split the pot, but because it is such a touchy subject neither would verify the agreement, though Fezzik coyly said, "If there were to be a chop" - his word for split - "there would still be a clear incentive and bigger award for the winner of the playoff. Plus, I really, really want to win this thing, and I know he does, too."

Maj Ent said, "A big part of me did like the idea of just being tied, but why not go for the top spot? I'm definitely going with my seven best plays and would love the honor of beating a pro like Fezzik. It's a shame one of us has to finish second, but that's just the way it is."

Fezzik has pledged that he will donate $3,000 to the Make-a-Wish Foundation if he wins the Leroy's College Challenge and a lesser amount if he's the runner-up. Of course, maybe there won't be a runner-up. Rule 8 further states: "If a tie still exists after the playoff week, we will have co-champions."

Both of their plays will be available on Friday (and maybe as early as Thursday) at http://americanwagering.com/college_challenge.html. In addition, Vaccaro has invited both to appear on the Leroy's Sports Hour radio show from 8-9 p.m. Pacific at the Riviera and aired live on KDWN AM-720 and kdwn.com.

Money Talks heats up

In the regularly scheduled matchup in the Leroy's Money Talks Invitational, "Chicago" Pete Ventrella and Bryan Leonard will be the featured guests on the Leroy's radio show. Both will give out their top seven plays on the weekend card - college and pro - with them graded from $110 for their first selection up to $770 for their best bet. Last week, gaming writer Buzz Daly showed a profit of $1,330 on his 4-3 record to defeat professional bettor Bill Krackman's profit of $90 on his 4-2-1 record. Daly will meet veteran oddsmaker Nick Bogdanovich in next Friday's semifinal.

* Handicapper Marc Lawrence of playbook.com and local radio host Steve Cofield meet in the first semifinal of the Stardust Invitational, held right across the street from the Riviera, from 9-10 p.m. and also aired on KDWN. Last week, Fezzik posted a 1-5-1 record but managed to advance when Las Vegas Hilton sports book manager Ed Salmons went 1-6. Fezzik went with seven NFL plays and has drawn criticism for that strategy since he has had so much success in the Leroy's contest. "It's the story of my season, win on Saturdays, lose on Sundays," Fezzik said. "But I've always done better in the pros and feel more comfortable talking about my plays in the NFL, so I went with what I know best, obviously to my detriment. I'm not proud of advancing, and under the circumstances, if I were to win this thing, the ticket writers at the Stardust could expect a larger-than-normal tip."

Let the real fight begin

The football handicapping contests might be called "battles," but the real fisticuffs take place Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center when Jermain Taylor and Bernard Hopkins have a rematch of their July 16 fight in which Taylor won a split decision for the undisputed middleweight title. In that fight, Taylor was the aggressor early and Hopkins clearly dominated the later rounds. Both felt they had won the fight but the scorecards went to Taylor.

The betting on the rematch is as even as any I can remember. Each fighter has been favored at different sports books the past month, but neither by more than -120. At Mandalay Bay on Wednesday morning, the host book had Taylor as the -115 favorite with Hopkins at -105. The prop on whether the fight will go the full 12 rounds is -220 on the "will go" and +180 on the "won't go."