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Conservatism and Halftime Wagering

   by Al McMordie - 09/27/2004

In this election year, perhaps this is a good time to talk about conservatism. Alright, not from a political viewpoint, but from a sports betting one. A show of hands now – What do you prefer in football, conservative play-calling, or a wide-open offensive show? Outside of George Halas and Woody Hayes, most football fans would vote for seeing wide-open offensive teams fire the pigskin up and down the field rather than watching grind-it-out (yawn) conservative plays.

This is understandable. Most fans want to see high-scoring games, which is why the NFL decided to enforce the 5-yard rule against defensive backs this season. It’s not because an injustice was being done -- it’s just that they simply want to increase scoring. The Kurt Warner-led Rams and the 2002 Raiders and Bills were entertaining TV draws with their explosive offenses. Those teams have slipped considerably for various reasons since, but the NFL longs for teams that can put points on the board in a hurry.

Unfortunately, there are a lot more conservative head coaches in football than imaginative offensive minds. But we can use this to our advantage in certain situations. For example, consider the mindset of a coach when you examine halftime lines. Halftime odds offer bettors a chance to place a wager on the second half of a game based on what they observed in the first half. If you find a coach who runs an aggressive spread offense (e.g., Dick Vermeil, Hawaii’s June Jones, Texas Tech’s Mike Leach), there can be value in looking to back these teams in the second half if they’re trailing -- especially when they’re at home. Or, it might be worth a look to bet that game over the second half total.

I thought of this Saturday while watching the Kansas/Texas Tech game. Kansas opened up a 30-5 lead and coasted to a 30-11 halftime edge. Texas Tech was a 6-point favorite for the game, but was listed as a 6-point favorite for the second half despite trailing by 19. Leach never plays conservative with his passing offense, even with a lead, so you knew he would come out throwing the ball in the third quarter. On the other hand, Kansas coach Mark Mangino played conservative in the second half, as he preferred to grind out the clock and keep the ball out of the hands of the Red Raiders' great passing offense. The problem for Kansas was that they kept missing opportunities and before you knew it, an aggressive Texas Tech had outscored Kansas 20-0 in the second half for a stunning comeback. The old saying "When playing not to lose, you often lose" came back to bite the Jayhawks.

On the other hand, consider taking the under if a conservative coach with a great defense has a lead at halftime. As I mentioned, the NFL is chock-full of conservative coaches, including Dave Wannstedt (Dolphins), Jack Del Rio (Jaguars), and John Fox (Panthers). If Fox has a 10-0 lead at the half, for example, they can be worth a look under the total for the second half – especially at home – as his preference is to not make mistakes, play defense and run the clock down with his strength (the running game).

Under the right circumstances, the Chiefs are a team to look at over the total for the second half. This is because Vermeil is not a conservative coach and has the personnel to score quickly if down at the half, especially in front of the home folks. Kansas City also has a terrible defense, so they’re unlikely to shut out the opposition, either, making an over something to consider. And this happened again Sunday against the Texans. The successful sports bettor is flexible and open to creative ways of thinking. There can be excellent value in second half wagering, especially when you examine the coaching philosophies of the teams leading or trailing at the half. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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