I lost track of the number of headlines I saw this week regarding how USC (3-3) could possibly be a 3.5-point favorite over undefeated and third-ranked Utah (6-0).
It’s weird that no one in sports journalism seems to understand what a point spread really is.
It’s not a prediction. It’s not a scientific analysis. It’s a gambling mechanism. The only purpose of a point spread is to distribute the betting equally on both teams so the bookmaker can pay the winners with the losers’ money.
USC is a 3.5-point favorite for one reason and one reason only and that is because there are more people willing to bet on USC than there are people willing to bet on Utah, so a carrot is offered in the form of 3.5 points to induce more bettors to put their money on the Utes.
Substitute any other team . . . Team X is a betting favorite because more people want to bet on Team X than on Team X’s opponent.
“Team X is a betting favorite” is not the same thing as “Vegas thinks X is the better team.” Vegas has no opinion on who has the better team. That’s why point spreads fluctuate, sometimes by a lot. If too much money comes in on Team X, the point spreads changes to be more favorable to X’s opponent.