As Texas A&M navigates the latest Johnny Manziel drama—the only offseason news item that could truly matter when it comes to its star player—Las Vegas is dealing with the sudden uncertainty surrounding the Heisman winner in its own way.
According to an ESPN’s Outside the Lines report, Manziel is being investigated by the NCAA for accepting money from an autograph broker in exchange for signed pieces of memorabilia.
Yes, it’s an injudicious, ridiculous rule—one of many—but it is the rule, at least for the time being.
There are reportedly witnesses, although actual proof remains a mystery. Still, this latest controversy has become a story, and it’s already impacted one of the most anticipated regular-season college football games of our lifetime.
Especially at the betting window.
With so much money at stake, the City of Sin is protecting itself with questions still looming. According to David Purdum, who has covered the sports betting industry for five years for multiple outlets, the LHV sportsbook has pulled down the September 14 Alabama-Texas A&M point spread. Other sportsbooks have since followed.
.@LVHSuperbook has taken the A&M-Alabama game off the board. Aggies win total (9 1/2) also down.— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) August 5, 2013
Alabama opened as a 6.5-point favorite over Texas A&M. The point spread had since been bet up to 8.5, even 9.5 at some outlets, over the past few months. It’s a massive number and a notable move for a game that will be played in College Station. Just imagine what it might be if Manziel wasn’t permitted to play?
Well, oddsmakers have done just that, and Manziel's value (not surprisingly) is worth nearly double digits when it comes to crafting these Vegas numbers. Pregame.com’s RJ Bell spoke with the LVH Sportsbook, and they believe Manziel is worth more than a touchdown to his team.
Vegas values Johnny Manziel's worth at 8 POINTS per game (for example, if -9 with him, -1 without him) - via @LVSuperbook— RJ Bell (@RJinVegas) August 5, 2013
This, of course, is all completely hypothetical. Manziel is still the team’s quarterback until told otherwise, and his involvement (or non-involvement) will be difficult to prove in any capacity. Still, if the NCAA eventually reacts, Manziel will almost certainly miss the team's much-anticipated matchup against Alabama.
Because of this, Vegas had no choice but to pull the game down until the issue sorts itself out. But don't overreact, like many already are.
“Johnny Manziel is the most recognizable name in college football, and as a bookmaker you have to respond,” said former Caesars bookmaker and current Donbest.com market analyst Todd Fuhrman. “Pulling the game of the year off the board is a must. We've seen recent situations like this before the season with LSU, North Carolina and Miami, but in those instances, we weren't talking about the incumbent Heisman Trophy winner.”
Although most would assume that a collection of connected bookmakers know more about his status than the public and that the classic "wise guy" mantra would be in play, don’t count on it. At least not here, and not yet.
There’s an assumption that Vegas is always connected when it comes to inside information, but the sportsbooks are simply protecting themselves. The public will undoubtedly react to this latest bit of controversy, hoping to get an edge even though nothing has been finalized. The move will generate a "what do they know that we don't?!" panic, but don't fall into that trap.
If Manziel is ruled eligible, the Texas A&M-Alabama game will create more betting—both legal and illegal—than any other game this year outside of the BCS National Championship. Because of this, sportsbooks would much rather approach this game with caution, especially since it's still more than a month away.
The situation remains fluid and incredibly volatile, and there's far too much money up for grabs to lean on assumptions. Much like everyone else, Vegas is just waiting to learn more.
Adam Kramer is the lead college football writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.