After the Supreme Court ruled that New Jersey’s state ban on sports betting was unconstitutional today, the door would seem to be open for every state to establish legal and regulated sports betting. This could mean that you can use a sports book to buy emotional insurance against another Fighting Illini football loss to Rutgers by betting on the Scarlet Knights before this fall’s game. Perhaps it’s the week leading up to the Minnesota game and you just can’t help but feel like Illinois is going to win; now you may be able to get a financial payoff for that gut feeling!
If you’re still uneasy or confused, I’ll illustrate this with five examples of how I would have used this power over the years:
Bet 1: Illinois (+245 M/L) at Northwestern, 2014
For virtually all games, two basic bets will be available: the spread and the money line. A money line bet will tell you one of two things: if there’s a + sign before the number, you would earn that number by placing a $100 bet and having the team it’s assigned to win. If there’s a - sign before the number, that number is what you would have to bet to win $100. The favored team is given minus-sign money lines (because it’s a smaller payout).
In this particular case, Illinois and Northwestern headed into the season-ender at 5-6, but with totally different storylines. Northwestern had a disappointing season under a longtime coach that was seen as one of the best in the business. Meanwhile, Illinois had seemed to be playing out the swan song for Tim Beckman after a horrible loss to a dreadful Purdue team. Somehow, they’d stumbled to victories over Minnesota and Penn State to claw to the brink of bowl eligibility. Still, the media narrative was that Pat Fitzgerald would euthanize the Tim Beckman era at Illinois.
I didn’t buy it. With Reilly O’Toole playing well off the bench and Mike Dudek showing explosive playmaking ability, I thought the offense could do enough to keep the Wildcats home for the holidays. That +245 line would have been irresistible, and a modest $10 bet would have earned me $24.50 AND the satisfaction of sending Northwestern to a second straight losing season.
2: Illinois (+28.5 points) vs Wisconsin, 2017
The other kind of basic bet is a spread bet. In this format, you again can choose one team or the other, but this time the odds are (usually) the same for either team and the underdog is basically given a handicap by the sports book. This handicap is the spread. In the case above, you choose what you think will be the higher number: Wisconsin’s score, or 28.5 points plus Illinois’ score. In other words, betting on Illinois +28.5 points is betting that Wisconsin will not beat Illinois by more than 28 points.
The Fighting Illini have seen some outrageously huge point spreads over the last couple of seasons, from +39.5 at Michigan in 2016 to +41.5 at Ohio State last year. On paper, undefeated No. 5 Wisconsin should be able to name their score against an Illinois team that ended up 2-10 and winless in conference. However, if you were hip to how Illinois was approaching games last year, that 28.5 point spread is a tasty bet. The Fighting Illini were trying to establish the run during this game knowing that throwing was an extremely high risk in this matchup. Considering that all Wisconsin’s offense wants to do is get the lead and then sit on the ball, I thought the nature of the offensive playcalling on both sides would limit the Badgers’ ability to roll up the score.
In holding the Badgers to 24 points, Illinois guaranteed winnings for those who took this bet, while surely earning themselves some level of pride on the defensive side of the ball.
3. Illinois at Michigan, Over 58.5, 2010
Another type of bet is the Over/Under, which gives you a prediction for the combined score of the game and the choice to bet that the actual combined score will be over that number or under it. With Michigan as a 2.5 point favorite, the sports book predicted the Wolverines would win approximately 30.5-28.
The Fighting Illini of 2010 closed out October with a 44-10 thrashing of Purdue to pick up their fifth win of the year. They took a 5-3 record into Ann Arbor, where Rich Rodriguez was doing typically Rich Rodriguez-like things: putting up and giving up a lot of points. Nathan Scheelhaase and Mikel Leshoure would face off against Rod Smith’s offense, led by Denard Robinson.
Though you don’t get additional winnings for how much your over/under is correct by, I would have been fairly amused to bet over 58.5 only to see the actual total reach 132 in the 67-65 Michigan win.
4. Minnesota (+917 M/L) at Illinois, 2010
The more rational and measured sports bets people make probably don’t involve teams that they love. That’s because emotions, both positive and negative, can really cloud your judgment. Every now and then, though, they lead you to be correct, and that’s not always a good thing.
After the 67-65 debacle at Ann Arbor, it was the second weekend of November and the Fighting Illini sat at 5-4. Minnesota had just fired head coach Tim Brewster and was in disarray headed to Senior Day in Champaign. But this is Illinois with five wins in November. That sixth win always proves elusive if it hasn’t been attained by Halloween, and I had a horrible feeling in the week leading up to this game. Just to ease my mind, I might have put down $5 on that +917 money line for Minnesota as emotional insurance.
The 38-34 Gopher win would have paid out around $45.80, which would have been more than enough for me to drink away the memory of that final scoring drive for Minnesota.
5. Illinois (+8725) vs Ohio State, 2013
Hey, gambling is supposed to be fun. How much more fun would a game like this be knowing that every garbage-time score by the Illini puts you a little closer to turning $1 into $872.50 if they somehow come all the way back and win?