The COVID-19 pandemic reached outbreak proportions in America last March just days before college basketball fans in many states would have had their first opportunity to wager on the NCAA March Madness men’s basketball tournament.
But barring any stunning and disturbing developments, the 68-team field will be announced on March 14 and a winner of the all-Indianapolis event will be crowned on April 5.
And with this tournament will come more than a speck of confusion in eight U.S. jurisdictions, where fans will discover that they can wager on March Madness, alright — just not on their favorite schools within their state borders.
The count of such schools, after a review by US Bets, is 53 colleges and universities that play Division I ball — but where their alumni in some cases will be crossing state lines if they prefer to wager legally.
As it happens, the affected jurisdictions collectively have a remarkably thin field of title contenders.
Land of Lincoln — but not Illini betting
The top-ranked school — No. 5 in the latest voting — that is in this curious predicament is Illinois, which as of Tuesday had a 16-5 overall record and a 12-3 mark in the Big Ten, good for second place.
Illinois, which currently has 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students, is joined by Big Ten rivals Michigan, Ohio State, and Iowa in the top 10 in what figures to be a March Madness to remember for the conference.
But Illini fans on the Urbana-Champaign campus will have to travel roughly 50 miles or so east on Route 74 to the Indiana border should they choose to bet on their team’s games legally.
The only other “lock” among 13 Division I programs in Illinois to make it to The Big Dance is Loyola University (19-4, 14-2), currently ranked 21st in the nation and leading the Missouri Valley Conference. Fortunately for law-abiding Ramblers fans, the Indiana border is just a short trek from the Chicago campus.
Curiously, all 11 other D-1 teams in Illinois have losing records in their respective conferences, thereby needing a miraculous conference tournament run to claim an automatic bid.
The “directional” schools — Eastern, Western, Northern, and Southern Illinois plus SIU-Edwardsville — have a collective 22-49 record in their respective conferences. Chicago State, meanwhile, is winless in its nine games in its truncated season.
Yes, Virginia may have several March Madness qualifiers
While Illinois claims the top spot in this “Land of Limbo” list — where college basketball fans can bet on the entire NCAA tournament except the in-state games that most likely interest them most — it’s Virginia that easily has the most possible squads in that 68-team field.
Both the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, ranked 15th and 16th, respectively, are jockeying for tournament seeding at this point in the season while also battling Florida State for the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season title.
Students over 21 on each campus will find that a trip across the West Virginia border will most expeditiously enable them to wager legally on their favorite team.
And unlike in Illinois, Virginia’s top two teams figure to have company when the selections are announced. All 13 state schools are no worse than one game below .500 in their conferences.
ESPN currently lists Virginia Commonwealth as a projected No. 11 seed — though as one of the website’s “Last Four Byes,” VCU (16-5, 9-3) may have a sweat on Selection Sunday should the Rams not capture either the Atlantic 10 regular season or tournament titles.
A-10 rival Richmond (12-5, 5-3) is listed by ESPN as one of the “First Four Out” of the bracket, so the Spiders are in an even more precarious position.
James Madison (13-5, 8-1 Colonial Athletic Association) and Liberty (17-5, 8-2 Atlantic Sun) each have had fine seasons, but no doubt will need to win conference tournaments to join the field.
A possible sleeper is Old Dominion (12-6, 8-4), second in Conference USA’s East Division in a league with no dominant team.
New York is no college hoops Empire
Of the four most populated states in the U.S. — California, Florida, Texas, and New York — the only legal March Madness sports betting in any of them will take place on site at commercial and tribal casinos 90 miles and more north of New York City.
And once again, those bets will not be allowed on games involving the state’s own universities.
But as it happens, none of the state’s 20 D-1 programs is a lock to be included in the 68-team field. In fact, none of the 43 schools receiving votes in this week’s Top 25 poll is located in the Empire State.
New York’s two most prominent programs historically — Syracuse (13-7, 7-6 ACC) and St. John’s (14-9, 8-8 Big East) — have danced around “the bubble” as borderline tournament selections for much of the season. But neither currently rates as among the top eight schools on the “just out” list.
While neither program may have to win those respective conference tournaments to qualify, it appears each will need another prestigious win or two to have a realistic chance.
The highest-ranked New York squad listed in the ESPN bracket at this point is St. Bonaventure (11-3, 9-3), penciled in as an 11th seed on the assumption that it prevails in a tightly contested Atlantic 10 race.
Colgate, leading the Patriot League at 11-1, projects as a No. 13 seed if it can hold off Navy and other league rivals.
Siena (9-3) — a potential 15th seed — leads the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, which also includes state schools Iona and Canisius among the top four in the standings. A late-season surge by Wagner (10-4) has it leading the Northeastern Conference, but a triumph there still would consign Wagner to a dreaded “play-in game” to qualify as a 16-seed in the 64-team main bracket.
New Jersey in the house?
Then there is New Jersey, the state that in 2018 toppled Nevada’s sports betting quasi-monopoly and the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act via a U.S. Supreme Court ruling — and which also invented the odd scenario where states allow March Madness betting only on out-of-state games.
Rutgers (12-9, 8-9 Big Ten) — the state university — so far seems poised to end a 30-year March Madness drought with just another signature win or two. ESPN currently slots in the Scarlet Knights as an 8th seed, given the dominance of the Big Ten in the rankings.
The other major state program, Seton Hall (12-9, 10-6 Big East), is listed as a “Last Four Byes” and an 11th seed as the current third team in that conference.
Of the five other schools, both Monmouth (10-7, 10-6) and St. Peter’s (11-8, 8-6) have a chance in the tightly bunched battle for the lone MAAC bid with its New York rivals.
There are a total of 10 D-1 programs in the other four jurisdictions permitting March Madness betting except involving in-state programs — Washington, D.C., Rhode Island, Delaware, and New Hampshire. The best bets to earn bids through winning conference tournaments appear to be New Hampshire (10-8, 9-6) in the America East Conference and Rhode Island’s Bryant (12-5, 8-4) in the Northeast Conference.