SPEAKING OF SPORTS: Forget March Madness

Millions of Americans are preparing to goof off at work, take extended lunch breaks, cut classes, and spend the next four days in semi-dark rooms cut-off from civilization as they watch their March Madness brackets blow up in their faces.

For reasons that aren’t clear to me, millions of otherwise rational people agonize over trying to pick every winner in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Given the high number of possible combinations, it’s actually easier to win the lottery, where the odds are only about 300,000,000 to 1 against you.

It will be jammed Thursday.

I don’t even bother to fill out a bracket sheet. Instead, I and a couple of friends have joined several hundred other bettors at the sports book in the Peppermill Casino in Reno in a more profitable venture: Finding the point-spread winners in the first round of the tournament.

Experience has shown me there are many good betting opportunities in the first 32 games of the tournament–over the last three years, I’ve won close to 70 percent of my bets on the first round games. After that, you’re better off just watching because the point spreads get tighter and the winners are harder to identify.

Being the generous fellow that I am, I’ve decided to share this year’s bets with readers of my blog. Do as you like: Ignore my advice, try to get your money down, or just track my progress to find out if I’m full of hot air or I actually know what I’m talking about.

I decided to beat the rush and get my money down today on the Thursday games I like. I’ll do the same thing tomorrow for the Friday games if the point spreads on the games I like meet my criteria.

So, here are my  Thursday plays (Remember: These are point spread bets; the underdog doesn’t have to win, just cover the number):

–St. Mary’s (+4.5) over Villanova

–Murray State (+3.5) over Marquette

–Belmont (+3) over Maryland

–Wofford (-2.5) over Seton Hall

–Abilene Christian (+22) over Kentucky

–Louisville (-5) over Minnesota

–Bradley (+18.5) over Michigan State

–Nevada (-2.5) over Florida

–New Mexico State (+5.5) over Auburn

–Baylor (+2.5) over Syracuse

Rebounds: Dick Vitale was ESPN’s No. 1 college game commentator until he was replaced a couple of years ago by Jay Bilas. He’s been sliding down the greasy pole of fame ever since. For its league tournament coverage, ESPN assigned Vitale to cover the last two games of the West Coast Conference (that’s the one with St. Mary’s and Gonzaga).


The San Francisco Giants are contemplating carrying as many as 13 pitchers this season, with 8 to 10 of them expected to carry most of the load over the 162-game season. Heck, the team’s two projected aces, Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija, might pitch as many as 200 innings each, assuming they stay healthy and are effective (not a given in the case of Samardzija).

That has become the standard of endurance in an era where young pitchers as held to pitch limits as they move up the ladder, 6 innings is considered a quality start at the major league level, and pitchers in a 5-man rotation rarely finish games. The manager expects to use his setup man and closer if the starter actually lasts 7 innings.

Despite the coddling they receive, more pitchers land on the disabled list than ever before, and it is assumed a pitcher will undergo Tommy John surgery at some point in his career. Which is why we’re unlikely to see somebody like Tom Seaver ever again.

Seaver, a native of Fresno who was perhaps the greatest New York Met of them all, started his minor league career in 1966 by pitching 210 innings–not a big deal then, but unheard of today. The next year as a major league rookie, he threw 251 innings.

Over his first 13 years, the 300-game winner averaged 265 innings and was still a major league starter at the age of 41. He pitched 231 complete games.

Seaver has little use for the way pitchers are handled today. “All this babying of pitchers–pitch counts and innings limits–is a bunch of nonsense,” he said several years ago. “You can’t predict these things…but one way I know doesn’t do anything to prevent (injuries) is babying these kids like they do.”

Seaver’s family announced recently that he’s suffering from dementia and will withdraw from public life. It’s sad to see a real warrior go out that way.


Dan Jenkins, easily one of the best sports writers of the last 50 years, died recently at the age of 89. That’s quite an accomplishment for a guy who was a life-long smoker, liked to drink, and probably ate more press box food than is good for you.

Jenkins made his reputation as a football and golf writer for Sports Illustrated when SI was the home of the best sports writing in this country. Being a Texan, he naturally gravitated toward football (it is said the 2 favorite sports in the state are football and spring football), but perhaps was best known for his golf writing. He is 1 of just 3 writers in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

“For those of us who type words about sports for a living,” wrote Michael Rosenberg on SI.com, “Jenkins was our Palmer. Just as there was golf before Arnold Palmer and golf after him, there was sports-writing before Dan Jenkins and sports-writing after him.”

Jenkins also wrote several books, including 3 best-selling sports novels: “Semi-Tough,” “Baja Oklahoma” and “Dead Solid Perfect.” He also wrote a humorous memoir, “His Ownself.”

Jenkins was cynic with a very good antenna for detecting B.S., but he never took himself too seriously. As he said for many years: “The message on my tombstone will be, ‘I knew this would happen.'”

Hopefully, he’ll get his wish.

This entry was posted in College athletics, Media, NCAA, Sports, Sports betting, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to SPEAKING OF SPORTS: Forget March Madness

  1. Here are Friday’s plays:
    –Oklahoma (+1) over Mississippi
    –Cincinnati (-4) over Iowa
    –Washington (+3) over Utah State
    –Ohio State (+5.5) over Iowa State
    –Arizona State (+4.5) over Buffalo
    –Liberty (+6.5) over Mississippi State
    –Oregon (+2) over Wisconsin

  2. My selections for the first two days of the tournament went 12-5 against the point spread, an outstanding winning percentage of 70 percent. A $100 bettor–risking $110 to win $100–would have won $650, not bad for a couple of days of goofing off in Reno.

    Here are some observations:

    –I take back all of the nasty things I said about the Pac-12. Against my better judgement, I bet on all three Pac-12 schools and finished 2-1;
    –It pays to bet against teams from Mississippi. I bet against Mississippi and Mississippi State, both of them favorites. Both lost outright;
    –What was I thinking? Two of my five losers–Abilene Christian and Arizona State–were blow-out losers. If you’re going to lose, you might as well avoid the anxiety of losing a close one;
    –It pays to shop around for the best point spread. I won one of my bets by 1 point and another by one-half point. If I lose both bets, an outstanding 12-5 record turns into a mediocre 10-7 mark;
    –One of the few sports cliches that’s true: “Defense travels well.” This is particularly important at the college level, where shooters are streaky and teams can go scoreless for long periods. If you can rebound and play defense, you still have a chance;
    –Finally, let’s hear it for Central Florida big man Tacko Fall and the Anteaters of UC Irvine.

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