ESPN made a notable change for college football’s first weekend. The WWL acknowledged gambling and point spreads. ESPN even broke into games with “Cover Alerts.”
The change has raised concerns from commissioners, athletic directors and presidents. However, college athletics figures pearl clutching about gambling is as disingenuous as college athletics figures signing multi-billion dollar television agreements and claiming the entertainers are mere students. The NCAA Tournament isn’t a 10-figure event without brackets. The impetus for creating, codifying and organizing sports competitions from their inception was gambling.
What’s more interesting is how this will play with TV viewers. More gambling coverage will delight hardcore college football fans.
There are places where point spreads add useful context and prod discussion. Discussing why Michigan is a (-15.5) favorite over Oregon State would be more informative than analysts just picking Michigan straight up. A line that is out of whack with public perception could lead into discussion about why that game is a potential upset. When there is a bizarre ending like Ohio State vs. Northwestern in 2013, announcers should be able to explain what happened like adults.
Of course, balance is required. There is a danger with making gambling the narrative. Casual viewers enjoy football. We’d guess a strong majority have no interest in cutting away for a “cover alert” when Middle Tennessee is driving late against Alabama’s second-string defense in a 42-3 game, or having that be a Sportscenter highlight.
The moments that make college football special seldom have anything to do with the point spread.