Women Have Own Brand Of March Madness — With Fewer Betting Options Than Men’s Event

Big uptick in ESPN bracket entries augers well for something closer to equality in the future
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The loss of a few prominent teams in the first two rounds of March Madness has been part of the charm of the men’s college basketball event for decades. But with nine teams that had a top-4 seed being eliminated before the start of the Sweet 16 round, plenty of hoops fans have seen their brackets busted beyond all recognition.

Some fans — more and more fans, actually — gave themselves a hedge by entering an NCAA women’s tournament bracket competition as well. In ESPN’s Women’s Tournament Challenge, the number of entries more than doubled over 2019, and after one round was completed on Monday night, two perfect 32-0 brackets remained.

In contrast to the men’s side, only three lower seeds won in the first round of the women’s tournament, with No. 13 seed Wright State knocking off No. 4 Arkansas being the biggest upset so far.

The second round takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The NCAA has been the target of much unwanted attention this month, from subpar weight rooms compared to the men’s teams, to less robust COVID-19 testing, to the quality of food and “goody bag” items. Then there’s the NCAA’s refusal to lend its iconic “March Madness” moniker to the 64-team women’s event.

And there is one other notable area of imbalance: the amount of wagering available on the games.

Women’s odds no sure bet

There were few betting options on the women’s event accessible on the eve of play last week on any major sports betting sites.

Of course, it didn’t help that the women’s tournament began on a frenzied Day 3 of the men’s tournament — something else the NCAA may want to address in the future.

But as of Tuesday, with the men’s opening flurry of contests concluded, things are looking up on the women’s sports betting front.

A visit to the DraftKings Sportsbook lists “NCAA (W)” among the “Popular” options (which also includes World Cup soccer qualifying and PGA Tour and UFC events).

All eight of Tuesday’s March Mad — er, women’s tournament games are listed, with favorites ranging from West Virginia by 2.5 points over Georgia Tech to North Carolina State being an imposing 16.5-point favorite over South Florida and UConn giving 20.5 points to Syracuse.

Alternate point spreads and over/under totals also are offered, for those convinced that any line is out of whack.

But a click shows that such options are severely limited. While you can take South Florida at -110 at that spread, the lone other option is +104 if you only ask for 16 points. Similar scenarios are there for each of the other games. (If you like NC State, BetMGM is offering that squad at only -14.5 points. As with any wagering, it pays to shop around.)

The futures are bright

FanDuel Sportsbook, which has been offering basic odds on all of the women’s games, also has posted futures lines on who would be champion, led by Stanford +190, UConn +300, Baylor +600, and South Carolina +1000. (Arkansas backers at +2200 crashed and burned in one round.)

Game props include betting on whether the final score will be odd or even at -110 odds.

On the men’s side, Saturday’s Sweet 16 offerings are far more robust. On DraftKings, for instance, Loyola of Chicago — a 6.5-point favorite over Oregon State — can be chosen at options ranging from +2.5 points to -14.5 points at varying odds. The over/under of 125 points, meanwhile, can be adjusted to as high as 136.5 points — at +320 for the over and -420 for the under.

Tipico, a relative newcomer to New Jersey that also does business in Colorado, had odds on all of the opening-round games as well — plus women’s NIT odds to boot.

The NCAA’s missteps this year for the women’s event — and subsequent apologies — make it likely that more equality will be offered next year. As for sports betting sites, as with all sports, the level of fan interest will play a role in the number of options offered.

The big jump in ESPN women’s bracket entries this year could result in more betting options on the ladies in 2022. In highly competitive states such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Colorado, one mobile sportsbook might even see a chance to gain an edge in marketing a more expansive women’s hoops betting menu.

Photo by Scott Wachter / USA Today Sports

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