Not at all Baffling

Last weekend, the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams played an NFL football game. With four seconds to go in the game, and the Rams in possession and down by ten, they went for—and made—a field goal. No time left, and the Rams lose by seven. Had they gone for a touchdown (not a pipe dream, the line of scrimmage was the 49ers’ 20 yard line) and made that, they would have lost by three (or two had they then chosen a two-point conversion). Fail on the touchdown try, and they’d have lost by those ten. Some folks thought the Rams’ decision was “baffling.”

But maybe losing by seven points was all they needed.

By game start, the betting spread on the game had settled at the 49ers winning by 7 points or 7.5 points, depending on the betting parlor. (Lots of parlors don’t like gambling ties, and that half-point in the spread eliminates those.) By losing by 7 instead of by 10, they beat the spread, and the field goal was a surer thing than going for the touchdown. The parlors paid holders of the correct side of the 7.5 point spread, and they refunded all bets on the 7 point spread (one reason parlors don’t like ties).

The Rams coach, Sean McVay, has a different take on his decision. Before the field goal’s prior play, he intended that prior play simply to get them into field goal range, and with time on the clock, hit the field goal, recover an ensuing onside kick, and go for the tie or win. In the realization, though, the down and in (in-cut) ran longer on the field and on the clock than expected so there wasn’t time left–those four seconds–to hit the field goal, get the onside kick, and…. At that point, he simply decided to stick with the field goal. He says he was unaware of the betting line [bowlegs in the original]:

Apparently, (Rams V.P. of communications) Artis (Twyman) told me there’s a lot of people in Vegas pissed off about that decision. I clearly was not aware of that stuff[.]

The first-linked article went on at some length about the spread and the field goal, but it missed the larger point: this is the impact of allowing gambling on professional sports, even if McVay, on the sidelines, wasn’t aware of the betting line. The mere discussion of the betting implications demonstrates the vulnerability.

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