When news broke that Alabama head football coach Nick Saban tested positive for COVID-19, the betting boards lit up like a Christmas tree.
The Georgia-Alabama game immediately turned red on the odds screen, which signifies a movement on the point spread. The Crimson Tide were a six-point favorite and within about 45 minutes, the line was down to Alabama -4.
Is Saban really worth that much to the line though?
“He’s definitely worth something to the point spread and we’re clearly seeing the movement,” Rampart Casino race and sports director Duane Colucci told NBC Sports. “Then you wonder if any of the players will have it. It’s a pretty scary situation because it seems like COVID is running rampant in the SEC.”
I felt like Alabama -4 was a bargain and thought the adjustment was a little too strong. And if you know anything about Saban, he’s going to have his talons dug deep into this game. I picture him watching in a dark boardroom with mahogany everywhere. A headset nestled on his noggin with a direct line to the sideline and an oxygen tank nearby just in case.
“You know he’s going to be calling all the plays,” Colucci said after a laugh. “He’s a hands-on coach. I think it’s obvious that he’s going to have a headset on somewhere even if he’s at home. Nick Saban will be a part of this game. I think it’s an overreaction by some of the bettors that have knocked the spread down to -4 or -4.5 here in Las Vegas.
“He’s going to be an integral part of the offensive and defensive schemes and his fingerprints will be all over the game plan. COVID is not going to deter Saban from coaching by any means. And Alabama’s run offense is just so far superior. I think they’re going to be able to run the ball, control the clock and basically wear Georgia down.”
I asked Colucci about the action at his shop in the first hour after the news came across. One would think that sportsbooks would've taken streams of cash on the underdog Bulldogs. I imagined the scene in Airplane! when the reporters all run into the phone booth and it falls over.
That wasn't really the case.
“Most people were actually hesitant to bet once the news came across,” Colucci explained. “Some sharp guys sucked up the +6 because that’s what they do. Then we just followed the market. But it was more of a non-reaction by the general public because people were thinking that the game was going to get postponed. The parlay bettors were extra tentative because they don’t want their three-team parlays to become two-teamers.”
So how’s the action on the game?
“The ticket write is pretty close, Colucci said. “The money is 2-to-1 on Georgia right now, but that will probably come back up by kickoff.”