Experienced sports bettors know how often games turn on the results of just a few plays. A dropped pass, missed screen, improper placement on a set-piece, etc. can grab defeat from the jaws of victory. Sometimes those crucial plays come in the waning seconds of a contest, turning that game into a bad beat for some bettors.
Every year contains these moments. However, these games in 2020 seem amplified because of the unique nature of sports in a year with a viral pandemic.
Sportsbook operators weighed in on some of the most memorable sports betting bad beats for 2020. For bettors, reliving these moments may either be jubilant or painful experiences.
What are bad beats and what makes them so significant?
A bad beat is a sports betting term for when a bettor or sportsbook loses a bet in a way that’s outside of normal sports conventions. Common examples of these circumstances involve bad calls by officials and injuries to key players late in games.
Whether the way these games ended was cause for celebration or unfathomable disappointment depends on which side of the markets the money was on. An example is the moneyline on Game 2 of the playoff series between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat on Sept. 15.
A delay of game call, two disputed fouls, and Heat guard Jimmy Butler shooting free throws with no time on the clock played into this result. If you had Miami straight up, you were ecstatic. If you took Boston, however, you probably felt cheated.
While this game doesn’t make our list of the most memorable bad beats of the year, it’s a good example of how unpredictable sports can be. The first contest on our list represents a similar cavalcade of events.
Nov. 20: Minnesota 34, Purdue 31
A lot of bad beats come on bad calls. This might have been the worst example of that phenomenon in 2020. As a matter of fact, several sportsbook operators refunded bets on this game because the call was so horrible.
With just under a minute to go in the game, Purdue had a 1st down at the Minnesota 20. Quarterback Jack Plummer seemingly found tight end Payne Durham in the corner of the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown. Seemingly is the operative word.
Referees negated the play, penalizing the Boilermakers for offensive pass interference. Video replay didn’t reveal much contact between Durham and the defender. On the ensuing play, Plummer threw an interception. The Golden Gophers ran out the clock from there.
According to Jason Scott, BetMGM’s vice president of trading, this was among the biggest losses for that book of the year. Scott says this cost BetMGM $1.4 million, including paying out a $500,000 bet on the Minnesota spread.
FanDuel provided Bad Beat Relief for bettors on this game because of the atrocity of the call. That wasn’t the case for bettors who ended up on the short end of the stick in this next game, however.
Nov. 7: Liberty 38, Virginia Tech 35
There have been many examples over the years of attempts to ice a kicker backfiring. For anyone who bet on this game, this will be such an instance that won’t fade from memory anytime soon.
With the game tied at 35 and just eight seconds left in regulation, the Flames lined up to try a potential game-winning 59-yard field goal. The snap and the hold were good, but the requisite low trajectory led to the Hokies blocking the attempt and running out the clock in a game-winning touchdown run. Or so it seemed.
Then, with five seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Flames set back up for a 51-yard field goal try. That attempt was successful.
It’s completely possible that Liberty might have won this game in overtime had the final seconds of regulation played out differently. Thus, bettors who had Tech on the moneyline didn’t have much of a beef. Our next game did go to overtime, but that didn’t help much.
Sept. 27: Cincinnati Bengals 23, Philadelphia Eagles 23
It often bemoans many bettors and fans that the NFL still allows ties in regular-season play. It’s even more frustrating for bettors and operators when the total from a tie game sits right on the betting line.
Heading into this contest, the total at most sportsbooks sat between 46.5 and 47.5 points. With the two teams combining for 46 points through four quarters, it seemed that overtime would seal a win for those who took the Over.
Neither team could manage as much as a field goal, however. The game ended in a tie at 23 after the extra session.
Giving teams an extra period and having them still fail to decide a winner seems a fitting narrative for two teams that have combined for eight wins through the first 16 weeks of the current NFL season.
The next game on the list stays in the NFL but involves two playoff contenders deciding bets on the spread in the waning seconds of a game.
Dec. 14: Baltimore Ravens 47, Cleveland Browns 42
A lot of NFL fans are familiar with the Music City Miracle, in which the Tennessee Titans won a playoff game thanks to a well-executed lateral in the final seconds. The ending of this game could be the “Cleveland Collapse.”
On the final play of this contest between AFC North foes, spread bets were upset due to the Browns‘ desperate heaves. Baltimore was up 45-42 before Cleveland‘s multiple laterals.
The ball ended up going out the back of the Browns’ end zone, resulting in a safety. What was a three-point victory turned into a five-point win for the Ravens within a matter of seconds.
FanDuel also provided Bad Beat Relief for bettors who had staked this game and lost their bets due to the Browns’ poor execution. A safety also played into the story of the final game on this list.
Nov. 21: Virginia 55, Abilene Christian 15
How does a drubbing of nearly six touchdowns make this list? When a last-second unlikely play swings bets on the spread. The line sat at 39.5 points coming into this contest, with the Cavaliers as the favorite. Until the game’s final play, it looked like anyone who took the Wildcats to cover would get a payout.
With just over a minute left in the fourth quarter, Virginia had the ball and a 36-point lead at its own 3-yard line. The Cavaliers tried to get cute, running a trick play to run down the clock. That plan backfired in a safety. On the ensuing Abilene Christian drive, with the Wildcats down 34, Virginia linebacker D’Sean Perry intercepted a pass attempt with seven seconds left on the game clock.
Perry returned the pick for six, boosting his team’s winning margin to 40 points. At the same time, the play turned bets on the spread 180 degrees.
While these losses may sting for those who lost money for a while, 2021 is sure to have its own shortlist of bad beats. Hopefully, bettors who got the short end of the stick on these games won’t get burned again in the coming years.