As we get closer to the conference finals in the NBA, enter the end of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Tour Championship, move to the second week of the U.S. Open in tennis, march toward the major league baseball playoffs, and begin both professional and college football, it’s an excellent opportunity to take a look at what effect the uncertainty and unique competitive situations have had on sports.
From the lack of fans in attendance to changes in schedules and reductions in participation, there are several factors that may impact how betting lines are set and how players and teams will perform relative to those predictions.
Betting – Lack of Spectators
We’ve already seen some impact of empty arenas and stadiums in the last couple of months. In golf, which began play in June and already completed a major tournament without fans in attendance, many of the top players expressed difficulty getting energized without spectators on the course.
In addition, there are no grandstands or hospitality structures, so sightlines are different. Without people lining the fairways, we’ve even seen situations where players have lost balls when ordinarily someone would have been able to spot where it ended up.
In the NBA, they’ve tried to emulate a home environment with virtual fans and even cheering for the “home” team. While the better-seeded teams earn that distinction with better records, there is no other advantage playing in a totally neutral court bubble.
The Los Angeles Lakers, the top seed in the Western Conference, have lost the first game of both of their playoff series, possibly due partially to the lack of playing on their home court.
The Miami Heat have jumped out to a 3-0 series advantage over the Milwaukee Bucks, winning the first two games in Orlando that would have been played in a very hostile Fiserv Forum. The Boston Celtics did the same against the Toronto Raptors.
There are no fans to influence close officiating calls or make noise during opponents’ free throws. The lack of home-court advantage increases the importance of matchup analysis when breaking down a game and evaluating the accuracy of the betting line.
As the NFL and college football gets underway, it will be interesting to see the impact of reduced or eliminated fan attendance. Some teams enjoy a significant home-field advantage due to the enthusiastic fans or the sheer size of the stadium.
With less than 30,000 people in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, will Florida enjoy any advantage from being at home? Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium has long been one of the toughest places to play in college football, but it’s difficult to believe that will be the case when it’s almost empty.
Adjusted Schedules and Lineup Uncertainty
Particularly in college football, teams generally get two or three games to adjust to a new lineup by playing inferior opponents before getting into their conference schedule. As reflected in the over/under lines, many seemed to be lower than expected. I would speculate that those setting the opening lines didn’t have enough information or confidence to predict high percentage win totals in a conference only or conference plus one schedule.
For all sports, there is also the uncertainty surrounding the sustained participation in the midst of a pandemic. There is a high degree of probability that more than one team will have to forfeit games due to the team having a high number of COVID-19 cases at some point in the season.
What could be even more problematic is the situation where one or more starting players are ruled out of the game due to illness. There is also the probability of more players opting out of a game or the season.
It all adds up to more factors to consider when deciding what games, teams, or players on which to wager this fall.