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The point spread on the College Football National Championship between Ohio State and Alabama continued to grow over the weekend, while the betting action on the game was almost dead even entering game day at sportsbooks around the nation.

On Sunday night, roughly 24 hours before Monday’s kickoff, the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas had only two more bets on Alabama than on Ohio State. At BetMGM sportsbooks, the two teams were separated by just seven bets.

“Don’t think I’ve ever seen such a high-volume game have a ticket count that tight,” John Murray, executive director of the SuperBook, told ESPN.

Despite the balanced action, Alabama had grown to a consensus 9-point favorite over the Buckeyes on Monday morning. The Crimson Tide opened as around 8-point favorites. The line dipped to as low as -7 last week, but had steadily be moving in favor of Alabama in recent days.

The action was a little more-lopsided on Alabama at DraftKings, veteran bookmaker Johnny Avello said.

“I think there will be money on the Ohio State money line [on Monday],” Avello said. “I think they’ll end up laying Alabama [on the point spread] and taking Ohio State on the money line.”

The best-case scenario for multiple sportsbooks was Alabama to win outright but not cover the spread.

“That’s not unusual,” Avello said. “That’s typically the way the betting on these games go.”

Here are the notable bets from wild-card weekend.

NFL

• Consensus opening lines for the divisional round of the NFL playoffs via Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill:

Rams at Packers (-7, 46.5)
Ravens at Bills (-2.5, 50)
Browns at Chiefs (-9.5, 55)
Buccaneers at Saints (-3.5, 50)

• The SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas opened the Saints as 5.5-point favorites over the Buccaneers and instantly took sharp action on Tampa Bay, pushing the number down to -4 Sunday night. By Monday morning, the number had settled at New Orleans -3 (-120).

• All three underdogs covered the closing spread on Saturday, producing a big win for the books after the betting public had latched on to each of the favorites in the opening day of wild-card weekend.

Bettors battled back Sunday, with two of three favorites — the Ravens and Saints — covering the spread. “[We] gave back what we won yesterday alone on the Saints game,” Jeff Stoneback, director of BetMGM sportsbooks in Nevada, told ESPN on Sunday.

• Underdogs went 4-2 against the closing line over the weekend and are now 15-3 against the spread in the wild-card round the last four postseasons.

• Shortly before kickoff of the nightcap between the Browns and Steelers, a bettor with BetMGM in Nevada placed a $550,000 on Cleveland +5.5, the largest reported wager of the weekend. Even with the giant bet on the Browns, BetMGM still needed Cleveland in the game, thanks to liability on parlays and teasers that were tied to the Steelers.

Cleveland won 48-37.

• Other reported big bets over the weekend included: $330,000 on under 48 in the Bears-Saints, which won $300,000. $240,000 on Ravens -3 (-120), which won $200,000. $210,000 on Saints -10, which won $176,000.

• The best result of the weekend for sportsbook PointsBet was the Rams winning outright over the favored Seahawks, followed by the underdog Browns’ win over the Steelers.

The worst result for PointsBet was the favored Ravens winning and covering the spread against the Titans.

• The best result of the weekend for the SuperBook was the Colts covering the spread in a 27-24 loss to the Bills. “The whole world was on Buffalo,” the SuperBook’s Murray said. “If Colts had won that game outright, it would’ve been one of our biggest wins of the year.”

• The weekly betting interest on the NFL has not been significantly hurt by the coronavirus pandemic. States with legal online sports betting have routinely set monthly records for amount wagered during football season. However, COVID’s impact on futures markets, like the odds to win the Super Bowl, has been severe. Jason Scott, BetMGM sportsbook director, estimated the amount wagered on the odds to win the Super Bowl was down upwards of 200% year-over-year.

MLB

More bets have been placed and more money has been staked on the New York Mets to win the World Series than any other team at Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill. After last week’s blockbuster trade for superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor and pitcher Carlos Carrasco, the Mets’ odds to win the World Series improved from 16-1 to 12-1.

“The Mets are our biggest liability right now for World Series futes,” Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill U.S., said in a release from the company.

Cleveland’s World Series odds fell from 30-1 to 45-1, after the trade.

Odds to win World Series (via William U.S., as of Sunday)

Dodgers +425
Yankees +550
Padres +900
Braves +1100
White Sox +1100
Mets +1200

NBA

Underdogs in the NBA are off to a hot start, covering the spread at nearly a 60% clip three weeks into the season.

Soccer

Early last week, Liverpool opened as a small favorite, around +108, over Aston Villa in a FA Cup match slated for Friday. The odds remained steady until Thursday morning, as word start to spread of a COVID-19 outbreak that caused Aston Villa to close its training facility. In a two-hour stretch, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET, Aston Villa went from a +220 underdog to a +700 underdog at sportsbooks around the globe.

On Friday, Aston Villa announced a lineup featuring only youth players. Fourteen players were making their debut for Aston Villa, which closed as a 30-1 underdog at William Hill U.S. books and lost 4-1.

Three questions with …

… Sports betting lobbyist Jeremy Kudon, via email

Jeremy Kudon, founder and chairman of the Public Policy Group for lobbying firm Orrick, has been in the thick of expanded sports betting legalization in the United States, representing professional sports leagues and prominent gaming companies. He participated in this week’s Q&A, centered on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s public support of legalizing online sports betting.

Q: What hurdles remain for New York to legalize online sports betting?

A: It’s worth taking a moment and recognizing just how significant Gov. Cuomo’s announcement was. For three years, we’ve been unable to get online sports betting legislation past the 50-yard line in New York. Now we are in the red zone. The major remaining hurdles are (1) ensuring the New York Assembly and Senate include online sports betting in their budgets; and (2) helping the governor’s office and legislature reach agreement on a framework that will lead to the best online sports betting market in the nation and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in much-needed revenue for New York. And because nothing in the state legislatures is ever simple, all of that has to happen before the budget is voted on and signed into law on April 1.

Q: In your experience, what do you think the professional leagues you represent, such as the NBA and Major League Baseball, believe is necessary to create a successful, robust sports betting market in New York?

A: The leagues’ priorities for online sports betting legislation also happen to be the core ingredients for a successful market: provisions that protect the integrity of the underlying games and ensure that bettors are using official league data — when available — for in-play wagers; a framework that allows multiple operators to participate in the legal market; and provisions, like remote registration and deposit, that allow mobile operators to compete with illegal offshore sports books. I think you’ll see in the next two years that the states that incorporate these priorities in their frameworks, like Michigan, Virginia and Tennessee, will have the most success.

Q: What do you believe is a reasonable timeline for regulated online sports betting to be up and running in New York?

A: If online sports betting is included in the final budget on April 1, I don’t see any reason it shouldn’t be up and running by the start of NFL season in September. The [New York] Gaming Commission already has regulations in place for the retail sportsbooks at the state’s four casinos. It shouldn’t be that difficult to issue temporary regulations for online sports books and license those companies who are currently operating in New Jersey or the dozen other states with online sports betting. That said, it has been 12 months and counting since Michigan signed its sports betting law and the state has yet to take its first online wager.

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NFL

Jodie Foster thanked Aaron Rodgers in her Golden Globes acceptance speech

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Jodie Foster won a Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her role in the legal drama “The Mauritanian,” where she plays the lawyer of a man imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. Now, Jodie Foster winning an award isn’t unusual — she’s an actress and director with an incredible career that’s spanned decades. She’s been in “Taxi Driver,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Contact,” and has directed episodes of “Black Mirror” and “House of Cards.” Her trophy case is pretty full.

No, what’s unusual is that she thanked Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers during her acceptance speech.

Now, upon further review, there are at least two connections here. One, Shailene Woodley, who is engaged to Rodgers, is one of Foster’s co-stars. Two, Jodie Foster is a huge Packers fan — and Rodgers thanked her during his NFL MVP acceptance speech earlier this month.

Foster was coy when addressing Rodgers thanking her on a recent episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live, saying that she didn’t know Rodgers, that the Woodley connection was a coincidence, and that she’d thank him next time she got a chance. Well, she got a chance and kept her promise.



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NFL

Irv Cross, pioneering Black sports analyst, dies at 81

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PHILADELPHIA — Irv Cross, the former Pro Bowl defensive back who became the first Black man to work full time as a sports analyst on national television with CBS, died Sunday. He was 81.

The Philadelphia Eagles, the team Cross spent his six of his nine seasons with, said Cross’ son, Matthew, confirmed his father died near his home in Roseville, Minnesota. The cause of death was not provided.

“All of us at CBS Sports are saddened by the news of Irv Cross’ passing,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said in a statement. “Irv was a pioneer who made significant contributions to the storied history and tradition of CBS Sports and, along with Phyllis George and Brent Musburger, set the standard for NFL pregame shows with THE NFL TODAY.

“He was a true gentleman and a trailblazer in the sports television industry and will be remembered for his accomplishments and the paths he paved for those who followed.”

Cross spent 23 years at CBS and won the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award in 2009. He was the first Black recipient of the annual award, which seeks to recognize “longtime exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football.”

Cross, a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, had 22 interceptions, 14 fumble recoveries, eight forced fumbles and a pair of defensive touchdowns for his career. He also averaged 27.9 yards on kickoff returns and returned punts.

He joined CBS after retiring from the game, covering a variety of sports before teaming up with Musburger, George and Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder on “The NFL Today” in 1975. The show broke a variety of barriers, including featuring the first woman network sports show anchor in George. It also was the first live pregame show.

Cross left the network in 1994 and later served as athletic director at Idaho State and Macalester College in Minnesota.

Musburger called Cross “one of the finest gentleman I’ve been with” in a statement posted to Twitter on Sunday.

“No one ever had a bad thing to say about Irv,” Musburger wrote. “He led the way for African Americans to host NFL and other sports shows. Rest in peace my friend.”

The eighth of 15 children, Cross is survived by wife, Liz; children Susan, Lisa, Matthew and Sarah; grandson Aiden; brothers Raymond, Teal and Sam; and sisters Joan, Jackie, Julia, Pat and Gwen.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Ex-Notre Dame football star Louis Nix, 29, found dead after reported missing

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Former Notre Dame and NFL football player Louis Nix, who had been reported missing earlier this week, was found dead on Saturday, family members told two Jacksonville television stations. He was 29.

Nix’s family reported him missing on Wednesday to police. After several days of searching, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office tweeted at 8 p.m. ET Saturday that Nix had been located but did not report Nix’s condition. CBS/Fox affiliate Action News Jax reported that Nix’s mother confirmed that Nix had died. WJXT TV-4 reported Nix’s death via another family member.

According to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Nix was last seen at 10 a.m. ET on Wednesday, leaving his father’s Jacksonville residence. Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly sent out a tweet Saturday morning asking for the public’s help in finding Nix.

Nix was injured in a shooting in December while filling his car’s tires at a gas station near the Jacksonville airport. He said on social media that he spent 10 days in the hospital and that a bullet ricocheted off his sternum and went into his lung.

Nix starred at Jacksonville’s Raines High School and played three seasons at Notre Dame before being drafted in the third round by the Houston Texans in 2014. Nix, a defensive tackle, never played a game for the Texans because of knee injuries and played in just four games in 2015 for the New York Giants. He also spent time on the practice squads with Washington and the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016.

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