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The Ohio State Buckeyes have more at stake on the outcome of today’s college football action than just about anybody because they know they must win to make the NCAA playoff semifinals. On the other hand, reporter Darren Rovell has more riding on the Big Ten Conference title game than even his beloved Northwestern Wildcats.

If Northwestern beats the Buckeyes, Darren Rovell walks away with $238,000.

Ohio State is in a must-win college football game

The college football season has been a mess that Big Ten fans would most likely prefer to forget. Conference officials called off the fall season late in the summer and then pulled a reversal. With the Southeastern Conference, ACC, and Big 12 encountering relatively few COVID-19 issues in the early weeks, the Big Ten approved a late start to its own season.

Unfortunately, keeping the pandemic contained became increasingly difficult later in the fall, and several Big Ten games were canceled. Ohio State felt the brunt of it and was limited to just five games – all victories. However, the Buckeyes fell one game short of the minimum that the conference set for participation in the Big Ten championship.

Only a late override of the rule allowed coach Ryan Day, quarterback Justin Fields and the rest of the Buckeyes into the title game against Northwestern. While that was great news for Ohio State fans, it was an unfortunate development for reporter Darren Rovell, who stood a much better chance of cashing in on a big bet if Indiana was allowed into the game.

Ohio State is in a must-win situation if it is to qualify for the College Football Playoff semifinals, but at least the Buckeyes now have that possibility.

Why Darren Rovell has $238,000 at stake on Ohio State vs. Northwestern

Darren Rovell graduated from Northwestern University, starting out as a theater major but soon incorporating his fascination with sports and business into an interview show on the campus radio station.  Upon graduating, he landed at ESPN, where he covered the business of sport. He took on a broader role upon moving to CNBC in 2006 but still dealt largely with the financial aspects of sports.

In November 2018, Rovell took a job with The Action Network as a senior executive producer. His role there has been to cover the gambling industry, which has been booming as more states have passed laws permitting sports wagering.

Rovell has more than 2 million followers on Twitter, where he frequently passes along notes about betting patterns on pro and college football. He also chronicles some of his own triumphs and failures as a bettor, which is how his potential $238,000 windfall has come to light.

How did Darren Rovell set up a potential $238,000 college football windfall?


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On the surface, Darren Rovell’s annual tradition of putting down a modest sum — $50 or $100 — on Northwestern to win a conference championship in college football is a foolish endeavor. After all, Ohio State is the 800-pound gorilla of the Big Ten, and Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State have usually been in the mix in recent years.

On the other hand, Rovell points out he typically got odds of 150-to-1 or even 500-to-1. You only need to find lightning in a bottle once to make those small wagers worth the risk.

The 2020 season has been different, however. Northwestern already had a recent history of winning games outright while established as the betting underdog, and the pandemic made it unpredictable as to which schools might lose key players from week to week. With the Wildcats coming off a 3-9 season but bringing back decent talent, Rovell took a flyer.

Seeing odds of 200-to-1 on Northwestern winning the Big Ten, Rovell made five bets totaling $950. When he added $100 to the pot, the odds suddenly dropped to 150-to-1, and Northwestern’s 2-0 start to the season dropped the odds again. The former ESPN and CNBC reported plucked down one more wager: $500 at 66-to-1.

In total, Rovell has $1,550 invested. If Northwestern beats Ohio State, he collects $238,000, minus tax withholdings.

With such a large potential liability on its hands, the PointsBet sportsbook offered Rovell $20,153.97 to cash out before kickoff.

“A nice return at about 13-1,” Rovell wrote, “but I don’t want it.”

How to get help: In the U.S., contact the National Council on Problem Gambling helpline at 1-800-522-4700.