What is the spread?
One of the first steps in understanding how to play in a football pool is understanding the rules of the pool in which you play. There are several ways a pool can be run, but the majority of ‘real’ pools utilize what is called the spread. So, what is the spread? The spread, also called points spread or just points, is a method to essentially look at the teams as ‘equals’. It is set by folks in Vegas and is essentially their way of saying how much better or worse a team is than the other taking into consideration things like who has the better offense or defense, but also things like who is home and who has had any significant injuries.
At its simplest, it is the number of points the favored team is expected to win by (conversely, the number of points the underdog is expected to lose by). We have some detailed examples below.
Why is the spread used?
Well, if you just had to pick who would win and who would lose, about 1/2 the games each week are really obvious. Of course there are always upsets where some underdog comes into someone else’s stadium and makes them look like fools, but that is an exception – thus an upset.
The spread is used to make the two teams as close to equal as possible.
Why is the spread a half number?
The spread is usually referred to as a half number such as 3.5 or 14.5 or something like that. This is used so that there is no tie and also so they don’t have to use < or > symbols. If it was just 3 points and the favored team won by exactly 3 points, then no one would win the bet. We’ll explain this more with examples below as this concept is confusing for many.
How does the spread really work?
For the examples which will help you understand, refer to this table from funofficepools.com.
In this table you will see Virginia Tech is playing Alabama with a-19.5 point spread, Louisiana-Lafayette is playing Arkansas with a -10.5 point spread and Washington State is playing Auburn with a -18.5 point spread. In this example, the home team is favored by the number of points in the spread (typical of week 1 matchups). If the away team had been favored, the spread would have been a ‘positive’ number such as +19.5.
Notice the great hover over text added by Funofficepools to help you know what you pick you are making.
In the example above, with a Virginia Tech pick, we would be counting on VaTech to either win or lose by 19 or less points. Even if they lose, we could still get the point for the pool, the difference in the two team’s scores just needs to be 19 or less (e.g. Alabama 45- VaTech 28 would still be a VaTech point).
Let’s elaborate more.
Denise (co-founder of Flip the Field) is going to pick Alabama regardless, so let’s use that as our pick in the game. Here are the potential scenarios:
- Alabama wins by a score that is at least 20 points more (19.5 but you can’t actually score a half point) than the number of points scored by Virginia Tech (e.g. 40-20). If that happens, then whoever picks Alabama gets a point.
- Alabama wins by a score that is less than 20 points greater than VaTech (e.g. 35-21). Although Alabama won the game, they did not cover the spread, whoever picks Alabama does not get the point.
- Alabama loses the game by any amount. Well, first Denise faints and probably throws up a little bit in her mouth, screams, blames it on the refs, and quits working on Flip the Field and never watches football again. Oh, and whoever picked Alabama does not get the point.