The Wisconsin Badgers and Nebraska Cornhuskers will not meet on the college football field this weekend. The game was officially cancelled yesterday after multiple positive COVID-19 tests surfaced inside the Badgers' program.
And the journey from Sunday to Wednesday was a wild one for bookmakers everywhere.
College football lines actually start popping on Sundays for the week ahead. In recent years, bettors have been able to make their positions early on games that are played six days later.
The first betting line opened Sunday afternoon at Wisconsin -9 at Circa Sports in Las Vegas. Other books started to post their lines and the market soon went to Wisconsin -10.5. Then, news broke that starting quarterback Graham Mertz tested positive. The line plummeted to Wisconsin -7.5 by Monday morning and got as low as Wisconsin -4.5 by Monday night.
PointsBet Sportsbook never even posted an opening line. They were more content with getting the facts straight than posting a line and taking bets.
By Tuesday, we learned that Mertz’ backup Chase Wolf also tested positive. So sportsbooks were scrambling to try and figure out the drop-off from QB2 (Mertz) to QB4. Remember, incumbent starter Jack Coan had foot surgery before the season started.
"It's not easy to hang a number with so much uncertainty," PointsBet senior sports analyst Andrew Mannino told NBC Sports on Tuesday afternoon. "With two QBs in the protocol, it seems like they’ll have to go with an untested freshman, so that’ll factor in significantly. We hope to get a line up soon, but will hold off for more concrete information."
Many sportsbooks pulled the game off the board Tuesday, but a few shops kept their betting options open. The lines fluctuated from Wisconsin -3.5 to -1 to even a PK at one book.
"Nobody knew what was going on," Mannino added.
Of course, the Big Ten conference did itself no favors this year. After initially planning on not playing football, they pivoted and rushed into an eight-game campaign in eight weeks with no byes. There was absolutely zero wiggle room should a situation like the Wisconsin one come to fruition.
"Our executive team talked about this during the preseason," Westgate SuperBook executive director John Murray told NBC Sports. "How could the Big Ten not schedule any open weeks in case this happened? We all knew this was at the very least a likely thing if not a guaranteed thing. How can you see all these other conferences and all these other sports go through it and not come up with a better plan? It’s a mess.”
It’s also messy when sportsbooks have to constantly refund tickets because of postponements and cancellations. If players have mobile bets on a cancelled game, the money simply gets deposited back into their accounts. If it’s a paper ticket, players have to physically return their tickets to be reimbursed.
There are also a lot of frustrated people that bet Nebraska at +10.5, +7.5 and +7 – all tremendous numbers when you consider the line was as low as Nebraska +1 or PK on Wednesday. It's not often that a bettor beats a point spread by over a touchdown.
Add this to the growing list of truly wild sports betting situations that have occurred during the pandemic.