College football playoff: Should Vegas decide who gets in?

Vegas doesn’t know as much as you think it does.

Oddsmakers don’t have access to top-secret inside information, and some of them can’t even tell you who Oklahoma State’s quarterback is this season. That goes for so-called wise guys, too. They’re numbers guys, plain and simple.

So the notion that the sports betting market is the best indicator of which teams deserve to qualify for college football’s upcoming playoff is silly.

For example, in 2010 Cam Newton led undefeated Auburn into Tuscaloosa as 4 ½-point underdogs against a two-loss Alabama team. The Tigers trailed 21-0 after the first quarter and were down 17 at half, before mounting a furious rally and pulling out a 28-27 win. 

But according to oddsmakers, the comeback victory meant very little. In fact, multiple Vegas oddsmakers said at the time that if Auburn and Alabama would have met again–say in some sort of wacky four-team playoff–the Crimson Tide still would have been favored.

College football, if you haven’t heard, is going to a four-team playoff model. A selection committee will be in charge of indentifying the four teams. Some have suggested Vegas oddsmakers should contribute. 

“That’s not what we do,” said Pete Korner, owner and head oddsmaker for The Sports Club, which provides odds and consultation to multiple Nevada and online sportsbooks. “What we’re trying to do is create even [betting] action, not decide who is the best or most deserving team.”

So saying one team should be in the playoff over another because they would be favored in a head-to-head matchup isn’t always the truth.

However, considering a team’s overall record against the spread does provide a good indication of if it exceeded or failed to meet expectations. If you were down to one spot and were considering three teams, one could use teams’ records against the point spread to determine which one is the most deserving.

But, for the most part, point spreads are not designed to decide playofff participants.