Pints and Picks Week 6: OMG you mean Draft Kings is a fraud?

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Each week, during college football season DPB’s Kyle Magin and Andrew J. Pridgen pour on the prose with Pints and Picks. Who to wager and what to drink while doing it. Here, the boys are talking about the sucker bet of all sucker bets…and no, it’s got nothing to do with beard-growing or the guy next to you on your Southwest BUR-LAS flight claiming a Ronda Rousey sighting.
Ladies and Gentleman, the man who lets the old lady go in front of him at the window…before he asks for her OurTime handle, Kyle Magin:

maginIAJ,

There’s absolutely nothing surprising about scourges on humanity one day fantasy sites FanDuel and Draft Kings getting the New York Times scandal treatment and a state’s attorney general investigation for probable insider trading.

The above-board sports gambling industry in the U.S., such as it is, works its ass off to keep clear of the stink of corruption. The reason you only hear of game-fixing scandals emanating from one of college basketball’s hinterland conferences once in a blue moon is that it’s the only place where a motivated gambler and a desperate point guard can avoid detection with a points-shaving scheme for a few weeks. State regulators, hawk-eyed book employees and a legion of gamblers know pretty quickly if something stinks.

With one-day fantasy sites, those checks went out the door. The sites avoided regulation by calling themselves ‘fantasy’ and classifying themselves as a game of skill, but allowed you to gamble with payoffs as quick as any slot in Vegas. It’s therefore totally unsurprising that they’re dealing with an insider trading scandal.

We’re in the Year of Our Lord 2015. The dudes who lit the economy on fire in 2008 are walking around now as billionaires after commodifying mortgages, watching them tank, and then making you pay for the cleanup on aisle America. Why wouldn’t a bunch of enterprising gamblers and coders commodify the already insanely lucrative sports gambling industry in order to hoover more money more efficiently out of your wallet, and then use the data they already have to get a leg up on you, the sucker?

AJ-I view regular sports betting–the overs and unders, the spreads we’ll talk about below and in every edition of this column–as a game of skill that’s likely a losing proposition already. The house doesn’t lose often or enough to reconsider their position in the industry. By chopping it up and letting you bet individual players, weekly, the house is gaining an untold advantage by introducing more variables than the workaday gambler could possibly keep up with. Throw in insider information? You’re a fool if you spend one more dollar on daily fantasy.

Here’s the deal: Keep the tables as even as possible. Stay with the sort of bets that at least put a regulator on your side. The sports stock market that is daily fantasy is a dangerous place…

pridgenIKyle,

Can’t say I’ve ever really agreed with you more on an issue. And this brings you back a long way from the time you made me see Guardians of the Galaxy in the theater. You pretty much destroyed my intro paragraph by nailing all my talking points against Draft Kings (no, you’re not going to be sitting in some ultra lounge with all your bros—mysteriously not drinking—wearing some weird FUBU-looking jersey thing and sitting next to a girl with a giant rack and an inexplicable wristband …about to bank $1 million) and FanDuel (no, $1 isn’t going to win you all the money but it will give you a hankering to lose more) but I wanted to throw in a little more about what the continued deregulation of the internets actually does.

For businesses like Airbnb (no unions, no TOT tax) and Uber/Lyft (no unions, no taxi authority, no taxes) there’s virtually no restriction on what they can/can’t do to their volunteer or “share” workforce. And there’s no incentive for them to take care of their employees (forget matching 401k or healthcare, I’m just talking about job security/basic workers’ rights and fair labor practices). All of these companies are investing overtime to cut out the human middleman (think: Airbnb-owned properties and driverless cars) so careful for the future you’re rooting for, because it most definitely does not include you.

But unregulated gambling currently may be the most dangerous conceit of all. Here’s why these fantasy sites are the ISIS of sports betting:

  1. Insider trading: What you and the NYT pointed out. No regulation simply stacks the odds into the gatekeepers’ favor and can lead to…
  2. Individual payouts/Collusion: Who’s to say gambling based on individual performance won’t become lucrative enough for a player to drop a pass or a QB to give one of his backfield extra touches? As the jackpots continue to climb (though not in proportion to what the host companies are banking every week ergo a class action suit) it’s conceivable that a pro could tweak his game slightly for a desired result and pocket a couple hundred grand for the effort.
  3. It’s real money you’re going to lose without much of the pain of losing it…until, you know, it’s lost: Part of the beauty of going to Vegas for the NCAA Tournament weekend or spending a fall Saturday at the book is it takes a little (a lot) of effort just to get to that window. Though things can go astray on any casino floor and a true gambler’s going to find a way, for the recreational bro/chick who likes to fantasy it up on Sundays, “I’ve been second in my league three years in a row” and is so awash in marketing and sugar crashing Wild Wings that taking it a step further doesn’t seem like a gateway drug but a natural progression—well, that’s where it starts to get dangerous and people start to chase. A $20 side bet for one week can soon turn into $5k on the credit card, fast. Jobs get lost. Relationships get broken. Cars get towed away. Front doors on homes get slapped with notices …you get the picture.

While I recognize the irony of warning people against the dangers implicit in gambling…in a gambling column, we specifically research and vet college games with the notion that a few well-thought-out picks and a moderate-to-good success rate at the window enhances the experience munch in the same way that free mistake pitcher of Coors Light enhances an otherwise walk-in freezer burned meal of Sysco onion rings and chicken club with avo.

I also think when you’re going toe-to-toe with the oddsmakers you’re essentially taking your playbook and knowledge and methods and matching up with them to see who can come a half point on the side of being right. I’ll defer to the little “When the fun stops” brochure you can find inside the double doors at your local, The Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino…it’s got a really depressing picture of a sunset (sunrise if you’re an optimist?) and a pretty effective 800 number to call.

There’s been more than one night day that that’s the only thing I ended up with in my pocket walking out of there.

maginIAJ,

It’s probably a sunset. GA support groups don’t populate themselves with hopeful people.

Speaking of the hopeless, let’s check in on the 1-4 Texas Longhorns again, just for shits. Since we last left the boys in burnt orange, they’d sputtered on a late comeback attempt against Cal and subsequently dropped a close game to Oklahoma State 30-27 and were taken to the woodshed by TCU 50-7. One of the in-state baseball teams, which, in a real upending of the norms, are now a million times less painful to watch, called for Charlie Strong’s ouster on Twitter, and UT blogs are reminding their fans that this is all Mack Brown’s fault. Things are holly jolly in Austin.

That’s why it’s the perfect weekend for the Red River Rivalry game against the 4-0 Sooners. If nothing else, the annual trip up to Dallas to play in the Cotton Bowl breaks up the monotony of the home-road dynamic so many teams slip into once conference play starts. A neutral site game–which at least some fans will make a trip out of–gives the Horns a little hope for something besides a dead-silent Darrel K. Royal or bloodthirsty road stadium. Still, though…

Oklahoma -16.5 vs. Texas (Cotton Bowl)

…the Horns are running into the buzzsaw Bob Stoops has re-assembled in Norman. AJ, is there a more impressive coach in college football for longevity and flexibility? Stoops was once a contemporary of Bobby Bowden and a then-relevant Steve Spurrier. He ran the air raid with a kickass defense and a nameless rabble of pre-Sam Bradford conference winners at quarterback. After a brief dalliance with the Nevada-style zone read, Stoops is back to the air raid and rode it to wins in Rocky Top and at home 44-24 against a previously flawless West Virginia offense. I see no reason for the roll to end this week against UT. While Texas has shown signs of life on defense–nobody has housed more defensive touchdowns (3) this season and linebacker Malik Jefferson looks like a future pro–but Sooner QB is putting up nearly ten yards per pass attempt against a run game that does a little bit better than 4 yards per rush. Stopping the crimson attack will take more bullets than Texas has in the gun. UT QB Jerrod Heard only shines in breakdown situations–he’s a show-stopper when he pulls the ball down and can hit the long ball with the best of them. But Heard only completes at a 39 percent rate in the second half. He’s not yet a guy who can sustain and finish the long drive that puts you in spitting distance of a playoff contender.

Central Michigan +7 @ Western Michigan

We’re going to finally find out about the 1-3 Broncos this Saturday in Kalamazoo. So far, the team looked admirable in a loss against Michigan State, hopeless in an L against Georgia Southern, expectedly competent in a win over Murray State and shaky in a loss to Ohio State. The 2-3 Chippewas–WMU’s biggest rival–have yet to win on the road this season but are 4-0-1 against the spread and looked convincing in a win last week over MAC powerhouse Northern Illinois. Western hasn’t yet put it all together this season and the defense looks every bit that of a third-place MAC squad–they give up 6.1 yards per rushing attempt and 14 yards per catch. That second stat is telling because the Broncos only give up 7.6 yards per pass attempt–so when the secondary bends, it breaks. That’s exactly the kind of thing Central can take advantage of–their passing game is good for a little more than 1.5 TDs through the air this season. Things may go the Broncos’ way in Kalamazoo Saturday, but Central covers.

Northwestern +7.5 @ Michigan

It’s tempting to forget that Northwestern 5-0 swamped a pretty good 4-1 Stanford team 16-6 in week 1. That’s because the following point totals from the following teams can be so easy to dismiss: Eastern Illinois, 0; Duke, 10; Ball State, 19; Minnesota, 0. Michigan might be 4-1 and on a roll after beating teams like BYU and… well, who the hell else after a week 1 loss to Utah? A Maryland team that’s about to fire its coach? A UNLV team that’s only now rising from the grave? Sheee-it, BYU is two plays away from being 1-4. Look, I don’t know if Michigan is back. But I damn sure know they haven’t seen the likes of Northwestern and its defense yet this season. The Cats give up a conversion on 1 in every 5 opposing third down attempts. They sack the opposing QB roughly twice a game. They’ve given up one red zone touchdown in ten tries. They hold a 6-plus minute advantage in time of possession. Somebody will unlock the Cats’ defense this season, but do you really think it’ll be UM QB Jake Rudock?

AJ, who ya got!?

pridgenIKyle,

I’m going to start the fun back up with a single pick this week:

Cal +6 at Utah

You and the loyal readers of this column know well I have a soft spot for the Golden Bears and the Utes. Both branches of the family go back to Cal and UC four generations and my sister never fails to throw on her embroidered Cal Russell Athletic fleece vest from 1992 and fill up her matching travel mug with three K cups of Peet’s Major Dickason’s Blend before setting out on her morning commute. Go Bears.

I’ve lived in Berkeley (three times) and that includes a summer (mis)spent attending Cal extension studying intensive German but mostly listening to Master of Puppets (the only CD my roommate and I had that didn’t skip) drinking 40s of Olde Golde and squaring off in NHL ‘94. See: this clip from Swingers. The fire road above Memorial Stadium is the Led Zeppelin ‘IV’ of trail runs to me and the first time I emerged through the tunnel to see a marching band playing on the pitch with the static from the expectant crowd making the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention was in the belly of Strawberry Canyon.

I revel in the Bears’ return to prominence and though I’ve been at times both skeptical and overly effusive of Sonny Dykes, I do think he has recruited to form and proven that one of the great public academic institutions in the country also has room for a bag-o’-tricks offense known as Bear Raid.

I’ve also lived in the SLC and I do think predominant culture (<– a secular Utahn’s euphemism for the Mos) notwithstanding, it’s one of America’s great cities. If only they could dial in the air pollution (and by pollution, I mean Jason Chaffetz) like Denver did.

I’ve always felt like Salt Lake plays its most familiar role—underdog—best. Winter after winter after winter, SLC has to do this really good job marketing to New York and LA and SF to come visit offering free ski passes with the show of boarding pass, insanely reasonable rack rates and a public transit system so clean you often find the locals sitting down and enjoying their lunch, not losing it, inside a UTA car. Utah’s tastemakers take line notes on the reviews they read in the NYT and New Yorker and try to emulate, with mixed results, as the city falls over itself like Tim Roth as The Bellhop the two weeks a year everyone posts their best #snowbeanieselfie for Sundance.

Expats from SF, Portland, Seattle often settle in the grown-up ski towns of Park City and Ogden looking for a way to raise their children on four seasons of lakes and trails and aspen-lined peaks. There is no pretense in Salt Lake but like a stand-up comic three years past relevance, there’s plenty of self-doubt, self-deprecation …with a little bit of hidden addiction, to go around.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by the confident stride of Utah head coach Kyle Wittingham when I spent a few days shadowing him for a story in the fall of 2010 just after the school’s move to the Pac-12 had been codified.

Wittingham was the first coach I’d had that much access to and he set an openness standard that has not since been matched. His team practices emphasized speed and camaraderie and depth. Regularly, he would mix in second- and third-stringers with the starters. Redshirt freshmen and non-scholarship athletes got as many reps as a seasoned fourth-year junior featured back focusing on his combine training. Wittingham’s philosophy was that at any given time, someone could get injured, break out or otherwise “show (him) something.”

“Everyone who’s here on this field belongs here,” he told me. “They’re here to play, not stand around.”

Simple, right? Most good coaches do that. They distill these really grandiose, really political, really intricate machines of dozens of moving parts into one, simple, bumper-sticker ready credo. And then they get their teams to buy in.

Observing Wittingham was to see that his wheels are always re-mixing the way that message was going to be spun—and never stray far from it. Which is why it was heartening for me to read this soundbite this week as his undefeated no. 5 Utes prepare to host the undefeated no. 23 Bears in a potential primer for the Pac-12 championship: “We feel like we’re more equipped now than any time since we joined the league to compete in this conference,” he said. “We’re still not at the point we need to be depth-wise at every position. We still need to get more skilled and more athletic.”

The fact that Cal-Utah is the marquee matchup in FCS this week is a testament to a base that believes it’s OK to believe. It takes a long time to break into the national conversation but Cal and Utah are two programs that are just quirky enough, just fast enough and just good enough to be included in the playoff conversation now. Hell, I’d take either one to put down Florida or A&M at this point in the season, or in January.

As far as Saturday goes, the hype machine has Jared Goff and his demigod statline (1,630 yards and 15 TDs with more than 9 yards per attempt) squaring off against the NFL-ready Utah defensive front. It took a couple games but the Utes, who led the nation in sacks last year, got their groove back against Oregon (five sacks) and the front seven is the fastest and most skilled in the land. Goff, however, has been a road warrior thus far this year winning back-to-back away games in Austin and Seattle against D coordinators who were solely focused on him.

Since both Dykes and Wittingham are contrarian chessmasters, expect a SEC West-style stalemate first half as Dykes tries to establish the running game with a chorus of Cal backs and Wittingham stacks the box to prevent it (in other words: take the under first half if you can find it).

Cal’s wideouts will spend the first five or six possessions stretching the field and trying to give Goff a couple quick looks for the homerun ball as well as attempt to tire out the inexperienced Utah DBs—Utah lost both of its starting corners Eric Rowe, graduation, and Dominique Hatfield, dismissed from team—now anchored by safety Marcus Williams (three INTs) and Justin Thomas, Pac-12 player of the week for his shut-down speed and decleat-style hitting week one vs. Michigan.

Beyond this, Utah will be outmatched once Goff gets clearance from the tower for take off and that’s why I like Cal to make it a two-possession game at the end of the second half. The battle of the undefeated’s outcome will likely be left to one Andy Phillips (Utah’s placekicker) who will end up kicking the game-winner in front of the ravenous, but still self-doubting Rice-Eccles crowd.

The PNP Recap:

maginIKyle:

Last week: 2 and 2

Season: 10 for 18

Oklahoma -16.5 vs. Texas (Cotton Bowl)

Central Michigan +7 @ Western Michigan

Northwestern +7.5 @ Michigan
pridgenIAJ:

Last week: 2 and 1

Season: 12 for 16

Cal +6 @ Utah

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