The University of Illinois has a slight chance to win the NCAA football championship. It's a slight chance. In fact, it's one chance in ten-thousand. So say the head honchos at the Las Vegas Hilton who list the Illini's odds of winning the big prize at 9999-1.
I spent last weekend in Las Vegas where I made my usual 10 or 20 dollars bets then shouted at the monster TV screens in the sports book just as loudly as the guy next to me who had bet 5 grand. Because it's not about the money. It's about being right. But I digress.
My favorite part of the sports culture on The Strip is the futures bet; the odds for teams winning championships. While the Illini's hopes were infinitesimal, Wisconsin was slated at a reasonable 30-1. UCLA, losers of 2 of its first 3 games, went off at 5000-1 as of last Friday. But the oddsmakers must have swallowed hard when the Bruins went into Austin and upset nationally-ranked Texas the following day. Ohio State (7/2) and Boise State (9/2) were deemed favorites. But what fun would it be betting on the powerhouses when Ole Miss is out there, also at 9999-1
Can Carolina, Buffalo, Cleveland St. Louis or Detroit win the Super Bowl? There are 500-1 odds against each of those teams. The Packers, who are always listed at shorter odds because of the nationwide legion of green and gold fans who bet with their hearts, are 7-1 to win the championship, 5-2 to take the NFC.
American pro sports don't feature astronomical numbers ever since the sports books got burned by the longshot Rams in 2000. Minnesota is the biggest NBA underdog at 500-1. The Bucks are 50-1 and 25-1 to take the Eastern Conference. The favorite? The Heat. What a shock! Miami is 9-5. There was one intriguing pro hoops side bet, the Lakers, plus 1.5 games to win more games that the Heat. In hockey where playoff upsets abound (the #7 seed Flyers and #8 Montreal made serious runs at the Stanley Cup last season) Edmonton is major league sports shortest of longshots at 100-1.
In the English Premier Soccer league where there is a decided line between the haves and the have-nots, the numbers are much more eye-popping. Blackpool is 9000-1 to win the EPL. A 5-dollar bet would win 45-large. But don't waste your money. I could organize a pick-up team in my neighborhood and we'd have about the same chance of overcoming Chelsea and Manchester United as Blackpool.
If you're really into "futures," the 2014 World Cup is already on the board. Host Brazil is the favorite at 5-2. The U.S. is 40-1. And I know you were probably wondering about Canada, North Korea, Kuwait and Iceland. They're all at 2000-1. Heck, why not plop down a few bucks on those squads? They've got 4 years to get their acts together. 4 years! Enough time for some unknown teenager to blossom into the next Pele. You never know.
For college basketball, I was tempted to lay down a fiver and spend the winter chanting, "Go Gauchos!" UC-Santa Barbara is 5000-1 to have "one shining moment." UCSB was at the Bradley Center Regional last March. How bad can they be? I'm afraid Vegas isn't very charitable about the championship chances of teams from the Dairy State. Wisconsin is 50-1, Marquette 75-1 and UWM and Green Bay aren't even listed, lumped into "the field" at 100-1.
But my favorite moment of the weekend came at the Hilton, the Mecca of oddball wagers. There it was, up on the board, blinking at me invitingly. "Australian Rules Football Grand Final." There was no way I couldn't bet on this. It was worth risking 5 bucks just to tell my friends I had bet real money on Aussie football. So I threw caution to the wind and took St. Kilda, the 2-1 underdog against the favored Collinwood. The game was actually televised on ESPN late that night. I watched the first quarter at the Flamingo with a couple of blokes from Sydney who patiently tried explaining the rules to me but to this American outsider, it appeared there were no rules. The whole thing looked liked the food fight scene from "Animal House." All I knew was that my beloved St. Kilda was getting its clock cleaned. I figured that was 5 bucks I'd never see again. I bid my newfound friends from down under good night and "no worries" and headed back to my room.
The next morning, to my absolute delight, I discovered the match had finished in a tie. I also discovered one of the most bizarre rules in all of sports. If the AFL final ends in a draw, they replay the entire match. There were 70-thousand people at this event. Could you imagine a Super Bowl with no overtime? Let's just do it all again next Sunday. Bring back the teams, the fans, the halftime act ("I say, Sir Paul, would you mind terribly performing a bit of an encore for the folks on the American telly next Sunday?") So my wager is still alive this weekend. I only wish I had been able to bet on the draw result in the first place. What were the odds of that? Had to be like 9999-1.
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