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March Madness 2020 cancellation is cruelest end for Dayton bettors

17th March, 11:26

LAS VEGAS -- We will never know how far Obi Toppin would have led Dayton in the NCAA Tournament. We can debate, dream and speculate, but there never will be an answer.

Four months into the college basketball season, we reached March and approached the crescendo when the plug was pulled on several conference tournaments and the most exciting event in sports.

Obviously, the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament because of the coronavirus pandemic pales in importance to global health concerns and serious societal issues. But our sports betting world has been turned upside down, so that's the topic here.

Late last week, when virtually every sports league and organization in America was shutting down, a Las Vegas sportsbook director texted me with this message: "What a disaster. It's sickening."

The ramifications of a sports shutdown are widespread in the gaming industry. With the NBA, NHL and MLB regular seasons postponed, wagers on win totals will be refunded. The same goes for futures bets on the NCAA Tournament, which will not be played. There is no small chance it can be delayed or saved. There will be no May Madness. When something is paused or postponed, there is hope. When something is canceled, that's just cold.

Two days before Thanksgiving on a warm afternoon in Hawaii, I watched Dayton destroy Virginia Tech by 27 points in the Maui Invitational. The Hokies had upset preseason No. 1 Michigan State the previous day. The unranked Flyers were on the rise and the secret was about to get out.

I called Ron Boyles, who has made a living in Las Vegas as a professional sports bettor for more than 30 years, and asked him to shop around for Dayton futures odds and get us down on it. Boyles found 200/1 at two books and made the bets.

The next day, the Flyers fell to Kansas 90-84 in overtime in the Maui championship game. The triple-digit odds on Dayton disappeared as most books adjusted to the 30/1 to 50/1 range.

As Selection Sunday approached, the Flyers were forecast as the No. 1 seed in the NCAA's East Region. Dayton (29-2) suffered both of its losses in overtime on neutral courts and went 18-0 in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Toppin, a probable top-five pick in this year's NBA draft, led a complete team with national championship potential.

What if? We will never know. There would have been ways to hedge and profit on a 200/1 ticket even if the Flyers fell short of winning it all.

"I finally have a futures ticket where I might make a big score and it goes up in smoke," Boyles said. "There might be only once or twice in your lifetime when you have a live 200/1 shot. That's the whole thing. That just doesn't happen."

My consolation is a refund and bad beat story to tell for years, which is not what I wanted. The Westgate SuperBook actually opened Dayton's odds at 1,000/1 last spring, so the beat is more painful for anyone holding that ticket.

I also held NCAA championship futures on Louisville (20/1), Oregon (50/1) and Wichita State (200/1). The Cardinals and Ducks were live. The flip side of a bad beat is getting off the hook on a bad bet, and the Shockers had no shot so I'll take that refund.

When the Final Four ends -- the title game was scheduled for April 6 in Atlanta -- Masters week begins. At least we had that to look forward to, right? Not this year. The biggest event in golf has been postponed, too.

Last Thursday, soon after Hideki Matsuyama shot a 9-under 63 to tie the course record at TPC Sawgrass in Florida and take the first-round lead at The Players Championship, the PGA Tour announced the rest of the tournament was canceled. Of course, I had bet Matsuyama at 30/1 odds, as did VSiN hosts Brady Kannon and Mitch Moss.

What if? Matsuyama might not have won, but we will never know.

Westgate golf oddsmaker Jeff Sherman took down the original Masters futures board, which he had opened in April 2019, and posted new odds for the 2020 tournament that stated, "Dates TBD."

Check the house rules where you placed wagers for confirmation on how each bet will be graded. David Purdum of ESPN reported Sunday the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement has provided guidance to sportsbooks for how to handle bets on leagues which have suspended seasons, such as the NBA and NHL.

For me, nothing will top the disappointment of the Dayton 200/1 ticket, which can be used as toilet paper in an emergency. The Flyers were on a four-month journey from unranked to a likely No. 1 seed when the NCAA Tournament was canceled.

In the early 1980s, Clark Griswold packed his wife and kids into the family truckster and made a mishap-filled trip from the Chicago suburbs to the southern California amusement park Walley World. When the Griswold clan finally arrived at the park, they were stunned to find Walley World closed for repairs. An angry Clark went berserk.

Many of us know that crushed feeling now. For some, this will be time to take a vacation.

The word "fun" is found inside the word "refund" but it's a lie. This is no fun at all.

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