Utah-USC reversal punctuates tumultuous start to football season


Photo by Associated Press | A late touchdown by USC was was waved off creating chaos in Las Vegas sports books.

Jimmy Vaccaro has been working behind a sports-book counter for 35 years, but never has he witnessed the kind of betting chaos that’s occurred in the first two weeks of this football season.

“Just when you think you’ve seen it all,” says Vaccaro, who runs Lucky’s race and sports books, “something [new] pops up.”

To review: Over Labor Day weekend, three college games were delayed for several hours because of severe lightning storms. Two of the contests—Western Michigan at Michigan and Marshall at West Virginia—were called in the second half, resulting in all wagers on those two games being voided, as 55 of the 60 scheduled minutes must be completed to count as “official” from a wagering perspective.

Then came the crazy finish to the Utah-USC game on Sept. 10. Trailing 17-14 in the waning seconds, Utah’s game-tying field-goal attempt was blocked and returned for a touchdown, giving USC an apparent 23-14 win and spread-cover (the Trojans were bet down from a 10- to an 8½-point favorite). However, USC’s sideline was penalized for excessive celebration on the touchdown play, and under new NCAA rules, on-field officials can negate a scoring play for an unsportsmanlike conduct foul, and that’s exactly what these refs did, rewinding the final score to 17-14.

“When the refs waved their hands in the air and said ‘The game’s over,’” Vaccaro says, “everybody from here to Jupiter put in the final score as 17-14 and started paying [Utah] tickets.”

At least until the Pac-12 commissioner, some two hours later, inexplicably reinstated USC’s touchdown. Once again the Trojans had a 23-14 victory, flipping the betting result and sending sports-book directors racing for the Excedrin.

Because each book has its own “house rules,” which are approved by the Nevada Gaming Control Board, the decision on which side to pay was different all across town. Places such as Lucky’s and the Hilton, for instance, recognize a score change if the correction occurs on the same day as the game, so they started cashing USC tickets. At MGM Resorts International, however, overturned scores are not honored, and only Utah backers were paid.

“We did what we thought was fair and we followed our rules, and that’s all you can do,” Vaccaro says. “We got clipped pretty decent on it, nothing earth-shattering. But that’s the way the ball bounces.”

Meantime, the mystery remains as to why the Pac-12 commissioner insisted on giving the six points back to USC, seeing that it had no bearing on the outcome—whether it was 17-14 or 23-14, USC won the game. But I have a good theory: It’s because I wagered on Utah plus-8½ … and I was among those who didn’t get paid.

Thankfully, I didn’t use Utah as an official selection last week, which is about the only thing that’s gone right for me so far this season. Two weeks in and my record is 10-16 for minus-$1,063 (dropping my bankroll to $6,023). To put that into perspective, I’ve lost nearly as much cash as UNLV’s defense has given up yards (1,109). Ouch!

Speaking of the Rebels, let’s move on to this week’s selections …

$330 (to win $300) on UNLV-Hawaii OVER 58½: Final score of UNLV’s last seven games: 55-7, 42-16, 35-20, 48-14, 59-21 (at Hawaii), 51-17 and 59-7. (Yes, the Rebels lost six of those contests.) Final score of Hawaii’s last five games: 59-24, 59-21, 62-35, 34-17 and 40-32. Final score of the six UNLV-Hawaii meetings since the turn of the century: 34-32, 33-22, 42-13, 49-14, 34-33 and 59-21.

If you’re heading out to Sam Boyd Stadium for this one and want to make your own fun, take a drink of your beer after every scoring play. By halftime you’ll know what it feels like to be Vince Neil.

$330 (to win $300) on Steelers -14½ vs. Seahawks: Let’s see, you’ve got Pittsburgh coming off a humiliating seven-turnover, 35-7 season-opening loss at archrival Baltimore. Now the Steelers return home for their only game at Heinz Field until Oct. 9, and they get to take their frustrations out on lowly Seattle.

Two things to point out here: 1) Half of the 16 games in Week 1 were decided by 14 points or more, and 2) the Steelers went 4-0 straight-up and against the spread after a loss last year, winning by an average of 20 points per game, including home victories of 28-10 (Browns), 35-3 (Raiders) and 27-3 (Panthers).

BEST OF THE REST (NFL): Chargers +7 at Patriots ($110); Bears-Saints OVER 47 ($66); Titans +6 vs. Ravens ($44); Buccaneers +3 at Vikings ($44); Chargers-Patriots UNDER 53 ($44).

BEST OF THE REST (COLLEGE): Bowling Green -8½ vs. Wyoming ($77); Notre Dame -5 vs. Michigan State ($55); Florida State +3 vs. Oklahoma ($55); Iowa -3 vs. Pitt ($44); Stanford -9½ at Arizona ($44); Arizona State +1 at Illinois ($33).

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In Small-Town Colorado, a Team With Brass


In Small-Town Colorado, a Team With Brass

By David Staton

It’s 7 a.m. in the northern Colorado town of Lyons, population 1,585. The heat has not yet seized the day, and the Lyons Senior High School Football team is holding an “optional” team workout. The familiar funk of teen sweat and the drone of this generation’s soundtrack—guttural, bass-heavy nu-metal—careen sidelong through the weight room.