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Las Vegas Oddsmakers Key In On Motivational Factors by Jeremy Martin
When oddsmakers put together a number for a college or pro football game, there are many factors that go into this point spread. Of course, all of the usual statistics, power rankings and strengths and weaknesses of the teams involved come into play. There are certain intangibles, however, that the oddsmakers can't assign an exact value to. These are motivational factors and history has proven that they can have major influence on the outcome of a game. The most important of these factors are 'looking ahead' and 'revenge.'
Looking ahead occurs when a team has a strong opponent or big rival on the slate for the following week and their upcoming opponent is one that they should have no problem beating. The individuals who devise the odds have determined that certain teams may overlook their current opponent while setting their sights on the bigger game the following week. If the weaker team is scheduled between two strong opponents, that can further compound the 'looking ahead factor.'
Revenge is self-explanatory. If one team was defeated by another team in their previous meeting the team may be even more motivated to play their best game against that squad the next time out.
Oddsmakers take these motivational factors into account when they are making their lines. These factors can be just as important as statistics and they are something the oddsmaker must have keen instincts for.
"(Motivational factors are) a handicapping tool and an oddsmaking tool as well," said Tony Sinisi, odds director for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the company responsible for providing lines to most of the sports books in Nevada. "You cannot go too far off what you deem to be the number under perfect conditions, but you can tweak it off those (situations). There's strong evidence that these are important factors."
According to Richard B. Dressler, race and sports book manager for the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas, revenge is much more of a factor in the NFL than it is in college football. He points to this week's matchup between the Steelers and the Bengals. Pittsburgh won the first meeting this season, 28-17. Dressler said that this is a perfect scenario where revenge would affect the line. While many books opened this game at five, Dressler chose to go with 4 1/2 at the IP.
"You are looking at the Bengals for revenge," he said. "Revenge is even more of a factor when (the game involves two teams) in the same division. There's no exact number. You get a gut feel. As I said, I like the Bengals to get payback on the Steelers. (Cincinnati) had a good game on Sunday. There's fives out there and there's fours out there. I am giving the Bengals 4 1/2. I shaded them a little bit (based on revenge) but it's not even a full point."
Although Sinisi does factor revenge into his football lines, he said that this motivational factor is more prevalent in college hoops, where rivals often face each other three times in a season. If a team wins both regular season meetings, revenge could become a huge factor if the same teams were to meet in their conference tournament.
"(Revenge) differs from sport to sport," he commented. "It's one thing for (Oklahoma), who loses (its) conference championship game to Kansas State; they are embarrassed and they are coming back to play them this year. Was that revenge? I am sure that was a factor but I think you get it more if its North Carolina and Duke in a mid-January (college hoops) game and they are coming back two weeks later at North Carolina. I think the dynamics of the different sports would come into play in regards to revenge."
Looking ahead is the other major motivational factor that comes into play when the oddsmakers are devising the lines. This phenomenon is more widespread in college than the NFL, according to Dressler. This is mainly because of the youth and inexperience of the players in college football. 'Sandwich' games where two strong opponents are scheduled between a perceived 'cupcake' can also be a trouble spot for college football teams. "They are kids," he said. "If you are (in the NFL), then by definition you are supposed to be a pro. In the NFL every game is the same battle."
"It's not who you play, it's when you play them," added Sinisi. "You've got what was deemed to be a walk over and then maybe another conference opponent the next week. Sometimes that walk over doesn't turn into a walk over. It's just human nature. You overlook things."
These factors have been used for years by the professional bettors, or wise guys, to gain an edge over the bookies. Only recently has the average bettor learned to handicap motivational factors into his or her wagers. According to Dressler, the advent of the Internet has helped individuals become more aware of these situations as bettors share information via message boards on the Net.
"It used to be one or maybe two guys would look at this and say 'hey, they have a big rivalry next week and this team is (bad); they are probably looking past them,'" he said. "But now, those same two guys are on the Internet telling another two guys who then are telling another two guys. The information is widespread."