Return of Big Ten Football Provides ‘Shot in Arm’ for Sportsbooks

Posted on: October 27, 2020, 04:46h. 

Last updated on: October 27, 2020, 06:23h.

College football is back. Not that it had been absent, with the SEC and ACC among the conferences playing through the COVID-19 pandemic. But the debut of the Big Ten Conference season last week provided a lift to sportsbooks.

Wisconsin Badgers QB Graham Mertz
Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz completed 20 of 21 passes in a victory over Illinois on Friday in Madison, Wis. Mertz reportedly has tested positive for COVID-19, meaning he’ll be sidelined for at least the next three games. (Image: Mark Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports)

I think the return of Big Ten football has definitely made the season feel more official. For the first couple months, it has felt if something was off, and I think this may have been the missing piece,” Matthew Metcalf, the sportsbook director for Circa Sports, told

“The action we saw the past weekend on the Big Ten games was significant, despite none of these teams having played a game yet. The Wisconsin game [against Illinois] on Friday night significantly impacted our handle and was a great way to start the weekend.”

By next week, the college football schedule will really have an air of normalcy, as all the major conferences will be back on the field. The Mid-American Conference kicks off its season on Wednesday, Nov. 4. A few days later, the Pac-12 Conference will start its season with a full Saturday slate of games.

Double the Fun

With that, the number of games available for betting will have gone from about 25 to more than 50, said Ed Salmons, the vice president of risk management and oddsmaking at Westgate SuperBook.

College football has always been popular in Nevada. Obviously this year with so few games for the first seven weeks, the handle was down,” Salmons told

“The Big Ten is always the first- or second-most popular conference, so the return of them was huge. Getting MAC games on Tuesday and Wednesday nights will be very good for business, as well as the Pac-12 returning. It’s a big deal here and we are very happy to have it.”

This week’s slate of games lacks a signature showdown. There’s only one Top 25 matchup, with No. 3 Ohio State at No. 18 Penn State. Meanwhile, No. 9 Wisconsin’s game at Nebraska is in jeopardy because of COVID. Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz and his backup reportedly are among members of the Badgers who have tested positive.

Loving the MACtion

The Big Ten wasn’t the only conference to belatedly start its season. So did the Mountain West. That conference’s late kickoffs mean more opportunities for bettors.

The return of the Big Ten was huge, no doubt about it. Even though the SEC claims to be the king and has won a few more national titles than most lately, the Big Ten’s still huge business for us,” said Nick Bogdanovich, the director of trading at William Hill, to

“Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State – those are huge-bet games. To have them back was a big shot in the arm. The first five weeks, we were done at 5 o’clock our time. Now, with the Mountain West, we have some 7:30 games. The combo of the two is really good.”

Bogdanovich joked that a JV game, if the only game on TV at the time, would get bettors’ interest. Hence, the made-for-TV nature of the MAC schedule makes it made for gambling as well. When its season starts next week, all six games will be played on Wednesday, and all six will be on TV. The following week, the six games are split between Tuesday and Wednesday and, again, are all on TV.

“The MAC’s the perfect example. If it’s Tuesday and Wednesday and it’s on TV, they’re betting it,” Bogdanovich said. “The MAC’s got good football. All you’ve got to do is look at the NFL. Up and down the rosters, there’s MAC kids on it.”