Updated on 09/15/2011 12:53PM

Storybook ending to start of season


In the 1965 movie "The Christmas That Almost Wasn't," the holiday was almost canceled when a self-professed tightwad, Phineas T. Prune, told Santa Claus he could no longer conduct business on the North Pole.

Santa owed rent to Prune, so he enlisted the help of a small-town attorney who as a kid promised that if Santa helped him be a lawyer he would help out Santa one day.

Those films had a happy ending, and so does the 2001 version of "The College Football Season That Almost Wasn't." It looked as if everyone's favorite college sport would be off the betting boards in Nevada when a self-professed conservative Republican, John McCain (his name could just as well be McGrinch), tried to tell Nevada it could no longer conduct wagering on college games in its sports books.

The casino industry called in favors. The jury in this case was the U.S. Senate. The casino industry stated its case and was gaining support in the Republican-controlled Senate when James Jeffords announced in May that he was leaving the Republican Party to become an Independent, giving the Democrats control of the Senate and effectively killing the bill.

"This was the first time in a long time that people around here didn't take college football betting for granted," said Bob Scucci, assistant sports book manager at the Stardust. "There was a very real chance that we weren't going to have it this year."

Instead, it's Christmas in August as the college football season kicked off Thursday night. There are four games on Saturday and two more on Sunday, including the annual Kickoff Classic, which is no longer the first game of the season.

Sports books are reporting strong handle on the opening slate of games. In fact, many bettors are stepping to the windows with both fists and moving the lines several points. For instance, Nebraska opened as a 26 1/2-point favorite over TCU in Saturday's Pigskin Classic, but had been bet up to 30 by Thursday morning. In Sunday's Kickoff Classic, Georgia Tech opened as a 10-point favorite over Syracuse, but the early money has poured in on the Orangemen and the line was down to 7 1/2 on Thursday.

"A big difference between college and the pros is that the college lines are much more volatile," Scucci said. "The colleges have a lot of things that can move a line quicker, such as suspensions and ineligibility. And the substitutes sometimes have never seen a snap, so there can be a huge dropoff in talent that you don't see in the NFL."

Scucci said another thing that leads to more aggressive line movement is the fact the Stardust has a $5,000 limit on college games (the NFL limit is $10,000).

"There are so many college teams and the smaller conferences often have softer lines," Scucci said. "We have more solid lines in the NFL and they don't move as much. And in the NFL you rarely see anything over 14, while 20- to 30-point spreads in the colleges are much more common. We can be much more aggressive in moving the line in college. Plus, key numbers (popular margins of victory, such as 3 and 7) are not as important the higher you go."

That certainly explains why the Nebraska game flew past 28 (four touchdowns and extra points) all the way up to 30, while the bookmakers have been reluctant to move the Georgia Tech line down to 7.

But bettors and fans fill the sports books no matter whether the colleges or the pros are playing. Saturdays is a 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. football feast that is reminiscent of the Whoville's Christmas celebration in "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas." Sundays are another day-long celebration.

If McCain's betting ban would have passed, it would have been interesting to see how many fans came to the sports books to watch the college games on satellite. Would it have been like the Grinch when he was on the mountaintop with everywho's presents while the people of Whoville continued to celebrate and sing? Or would the books have been filled with silence?

The bettors and the bookmakers are just glad the college football season is a reality and not just a fairy tale.

What do you think of John McCain's attempt to abolish betting on college football? If such a ban were implemented, would you wager offshore on college games? Share your opinion on this story in the DRF.com In the News Forum.*
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