NFL season favored to happen, but contests will hurt

By Matt Youmans  ( senior editor) 

Everywhere he goes, Jay Kornegay gets the same question. For those of us in the sports betting business, whether booking the action or placing the bets, it’s a question we now weigh each day.

“I get asked all the time if there will be a football season,” said Kornegay, the Westgate SuperBook vice president. “I don’t know. I was a lot more optimistic two weeks ago than I am today.”

Nobody knows, not even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. But as soon as we think we know or begin to feel good about things, bad news is followed by worse news. One step forward, two steps back seems the routine for the last three pandemic-riddled months.

Kornegay’s fictional prop price on the NFL season happening was “Yes” -400 two weeks ago. He said he adjusted the line to -200 after the weekend.

The NFL season might not kick off on time — the Houston-Kansas City opener is scheduled Sept. 10 — but it’s still a favorite to start at some point.

College football is a trickier proposition. It was reported Friday that 23 Clemson players tested positive for the coronavirus. That was followed by a report that 30 Louisiana State players were isolated after testing positive for COVID-19 or because they had contact with those who tested positive. There was the bad news of the weekend.

The mind can take you to some dark places. What happens if there is no football season? Let’s not go there now.

I love college football, but we could live without it this season. We also could survive without a shortened MLB season and the NBA and NHL playoffs, though getting two or all of those would be nice. We definitely need the NFL, the motor that drives the sports betting economy.

“I think we will have an NFL season,” said Mike Palm, vice president of operations for The D, Golden Gate and Circa. “I would bet the ‘Yes’ on the NFL pretty heavily.”

A shaky economy, unemployment issues and the uncertainty of the football season will probably mean a fallout effect for Las Vegas’ major football contests — the Westgate’s SuperContest and the Circa Sports Million II, each based on picking NFL point-spread winners.

The Westgate started accepting SuperContest entries in January, when VSiN’s Brent Musburger was the first to sign up. After the 2019 contest attracted a record 3,328 entrants, it appears the 2020 contest could fall well short of that total.

“No chance,” Kornegay said of getting a record number of entries this year. “A lot of people have been negatively impacted financially over this, and there are obviously questions about this season, so a lot of people might just sit this one out.”

Pay the mortgage or risk it on the SuperContest entry fee of $1,500? A few will gamble, but most will pay the bills. The Circa contest, with a $1,000 fee, drew 1,875 entrants in its first year. Palm said the Circa Million II currently has 38 entries. Kornegay said SuperContest entries are at about 115. Those are not record-breaking paces as we head to July.

Here’s something else to consider: What if the NFL season is forced to shut down at some point because of virus outbreaks? Palm said the Circa Million II requires 12 weeks to be played to be official.

“Our rules state the NFL season must consist of at least 10 full weeks for the contest to be official,” Kornegay said, adding the Westgate’s legal department is examining the contest rules.

At William Hill, which stages college and NFL contests, sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said registration opens July 15 for both contests. “We put in stipulations a mile long,” he said.

Wearing face masks, making contingency plans and taking nothing for granted is the new normal. If the football season happens, it promises to be the most bizarre season we have ever seen, something out of a far-fetched futuristic movie.

Imagine the scenario if Tom Brady tests positive for the virus the day before Tampa Bay plays at New Orleans in September. Imagine a team facing 10 or more players testing positive the week of a game.

“I believe the media could put too much pressure on people to shut down,” Kornegay said.

In March, Saints coach Sean Payton was the first person in the NFL known to test positive for the coronavirus. Payton said a week later he was cleared and had recovered. Denver linebacker Von Miller and Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott also tested positive, yet both have emerged healthy, and that’s a silver lining.

“I think the thing that boosts my confidence is over the weekend when Nick Watney tested positive, the PGA Tour kept going,” Westgate book director John Murray said. “That leads me to believe we’re going to be OK for football season.”

The Westgate has expanded to Colorado and plans to stage the first SuperContest Colorado with a $500 entry fee. Kornegay said he hopes to announce the SuperBook will open mobile operations in New Jersey in August. As legal sports betting spreads across the country, the key to everything is a football season.

Goodell has been hellbent on the NFL forging ahead with business as usual. That’s the good news. Wait for the worst news — and hope it never comes.

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