Having started with a sport I find one of the most enjoyably betable, I will now offer one of the least betable, a sport that in spite of a popular betting culture surrounding it with a refined set of conventions and large mass of people throwing bets at it. Today's sport in question is Basketball.
Basketball, unlike some "sporting" ventures I don't find very betable1 is definitely an athletic competition. Generally one team wins the game and the other team loses, even if several periods of overtime are necessary to determine an outcome. Since Basketball is a rather high scoring game, and they have a decently well developed scheme for preventing ties it succeeds at least in this way. As a betting sport though Basketball suffers a number of failings.
- The talent gap between teams is immense. A lot of this comes down to the best players being much better than the merely great players, who are worlds ahead of the replacement level players that make up the bulk of a league's talent. Frequent personnel changes during gameplay or structuring the game such that it is a lower scoring game could balance this disparity quite a bit.2 This just kind of makes the venture unpleasant. The next point is critical.
- Point Shaving. It exists, has existed forever, and remains problematic. The reason why it exists is that Basketball, being such a high scoring game can rarely create attractive odds on the moneyline for either bettors or bookmakers, so most bets happen on the spread. That means a few, or even tens of points in either direction can affect the outcome of a bet without touching the outcome of the game. The talent gap mentioned in the first point can aggravate this problem. Point shaving isn't just a problem that can be imposed by players alone though. Coaches and officials are also in positions where they can discretely affect the final score of a game to impact certain betting lines unfavorably or favorably. The seriousness of this problem in basketball and basketball betting culture is so grave as to make the sport unbetable on its own with the exception of a few particular select games, where the final outcome of the game against the Moneyline rather than the spread can be in jeopardy over the entire course of the game.
- The pace of the game just sucks. In the time it takes to get another beer whether from the fridge, the bar, or the waitress... points will have been scored. The particulars about how they were scored won't matter much. The progress of the game advances constantly. Points continue to be scored without cease. If you bet on a game when the fuck are you supposed to sweat? Might as well schedule a fucking nap and try to be awake for the final five minutes of the game.
- Competitive balance is really fucking bad.
- All of the incentives are fucked. The bottoms three quarters of teams have an incentive to loose as many games as possible in pursuit of the chance at a draft pick who might become a face of a winning franchise five years down the road. This is just how the sport is structured. The talent gap contributes quite a bit to this phenomenon. So does the second most immoral labor market structure in professional sports.3 A team can either field a balanced team where everybody is an equitable threat to their competition or they can field a superstar and a troupe of backup dancers.
These are the reasons that in spite of the popularity of betting on basketball, I find this abortus masquerading as competition to be largely unbetable. Most games have all of the excitement of a race between man and horse4 and structural shortcomings of the game and surrounding betting culture make basketball a poor venture to bet for a sweat. They also make it likely that betting for a profit is still more of an errand for fools and suckers.
- Soccer/football is the prime example of this. I guess if one's definition of sporting involves the match being drawn as an acceptable outcome than things don't get more polite and "sporting" than what soccer/football offers. However in competition and betting a draw just seems like a rather cheap outcome. Do the players from both teams "hug it out" after a drawn match. I've kind of addressed parts of the sportsmanship issue before, but it seems that good competition ought to leave the winners at least satisfied and the losers at least embarassed, but preferably despondent. By despondent I don't mean sad only to feel better in the morning. By despondent I mean the next morning they are either enraged at their failure or genuinely curious about which part of their brain they can destroy to make the swiftest exit from the world of the living. [↩]
- Hockey probably the premier example of a team competition that manages to balance the impact of premier players with the realities of a team sport, without the whole thing seeming like a pretense where the other 9 people on the court are just extras in the Lebron James show. [↩]
- The NFL has held the number one spot and looks like they will hold it for the immediate future. [↩]
- Horses win over shorter distances, but over long distances a man conditioned for the rigors is more often the winner. So long as the length of the course is know as well as the particular horse and the particular man competing, the outcome is rarely if ever in serious doubt. [↩]