Jay Christensen covered college football, among other sports, for the Los Angeles Times and produces the popular college football blog TheWizofOdds.com.
While Texas Tech officials continue to investigate a complaint over how coach Mike Leach dealt with a player whom he believed was faking an injury, Leach was suspended indefinitely Monday.
Days earlier, Urban Meyer announces he's stepping down as Florida coach because of health concerns. Then he changes his mind less than 24 hours later, deciding he will take a leave of absence.
Meanwhile, Brian Kelly, coach of an undefeated Cincinnati team, says adiós and takes the Notre Dame job, leaving the Bearcats to fend for themselves against Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
Bettors are usually adept at making adjustments on the fly, but these postseason surprises are testing even the most experienced of gamblers.
“There's no way to look at it from a broad perspective,” Covers expert Ted Sevransky said. “Sometimes a coach leaves and the team pulls together and says, 'Hey, screw that guy, we're going to win for us.'
“That's certainly the situation Cincinnati is in. We saw West Virginia do that [against Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl] when Rich Rodriguez left. That's not unusual or unheard of.”
For every West Virginia, however, there is a Ball State, which entered last season's GMAC Bowl as a 2.5-point underdog against Tulsa. The Cardinals were promptly smoked, 45-13.
“Perfect example,” Sevransky said. “That team; flat as a pancake once Brady Hoke left town [for the San Diego State job].
“It's a case-by-case basis, for sure.”
Oddsmakers and sports book directors, too, have been scrambling to keep on top of the news. Monday's announcement that Leach had been suspended forced “a couple of people to take the game off the board,” according to Sean Van Patten, an oddsmaker for Las Vegas Sports Consultants.
When the game was put back up, the line had moved in favor of Michigan State, the Red Raiders' opponent in the Alamo Bowl. The Spartans, who were getting seven points on the opening line, were getting 8.5 points on one offshore book.
Oddsmakers had been shoveling points in Cincinnati's direction since installing the Bearcats as a 10.5-point underdog against Florida. Bettors simply didn't like Cincinnati's chances after the departures of Kelly and Jeff Quinn, the Bearcats' offensive coordinator, who will take over as coach of the Buffalo Bulls after the Sugar Bowl.
Then came the Brett Favre-like 24 hours surrounding Meyer, sending the line, which had settled around 12 points, on last weekend's roller-coaster ride.
“As soon as it was announced Meyer was stepping down, we instantly took Cincinnati bets because everybody thought he quit or wasn't going to coach,” said Mike Colbert, the sports book director at the M Resort Spa Casino.
“Obviously, if Meyer is not there for the bowl game, it doesn't help Florida any. People didn't exactly know what was going on — if he was retiring, quitting, taking a leave of absence. I think they assumed he wouldn't be there for the bowl game.
“Then of course, an hour or two later when the news actually got out to the public that he was going to coach the bowl game, it leveled off again at 11.5 or 12.
“But the instant reaction was to bet Cincinnati because Urban Meyer wasn't going to be there.”
Mirage sportsbook director Jay Rood said that he initially took the game off the board when news broke about Meyer.
“I believe we were at 12 at that time. I saw a few other places where it jumped up to 12.5 knowing that he was going to coach the game anyway. The first reports we had were that he was going to coach the game. At that point, it wasn't a real big issue to the number. I slid it up to 12.5 and we're still sitting at 12.5 right now,” he said Monday afternoon.
“The same motivation is there as before. [Tim] Tebow has talked about going out a winner and sending the seniors out as winners, and now Meyer becomes part of that group.”
Las Vegas Hilton sportsbook director Jay Kornegay reported the same effect. A move on Florida, he said, pushed the line to 12.5 or 13.5 at most books.
“Obviously bettors think Florida is going to be motivated to put on a good performance for the coach to maybe help him make up his mind,” Kornegay said.
Where does this leave the bettor? Sevransky dismissed the Sugar Bowl line move as “much ado about nothing.”
“The line was going to jump anyway,” he said. “From 10.5, this line was going to 14.”
As for Cincinnati, he said: “Too soon to tell.”
Sevransky feels somewhat the same about the drama surrounding Leach and Texas Tech. Leach is alleged to have mistreated receiver Adam James, the son of ESPN analyst Craig James, after the coach thought the player was faking a concussion. “No way to tell how this will impact the team,” he said.
“Leach's relationship with the team and school has been fractured all year,” Sevransky said. “The timing of it surprises me, but he's grown too big for his britches.”