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Sports Message Boards and Touts: The Ultimate Love/Hate Relationship...By Nelson Lardner

"King Tout sucks! Dart-Thrower hasn't picked a winner since the Vietnam War! Blind Pig has no idea who's QUARTERBACKING these teams! The only thing Uncluttered Mind likes better than a two-touchdown favorite is a THREE-touchdown favorite!"

And so it goes.

Significant bandwidth is used up on those sporting message boards (including this one) which host a sizeable gaming-oriented element by those never at a loss for words regarding the knowledge, historical prowess and parentage of many nationally-known sporting advisors.

Charles Schulz's Linus (from the Peanuts comic strip) noted long ago that "I love mankind . .. it's people I can't stand." Tout critics stand on solid ground when they turn that bromide around . . . despite notable exceptions, paid public sports prognosticators taken as a whole deserve a large portion of the abuse directed their way. Most of the best-known practitioners, who spend the most money advertising the gaudiest claims, are unworthy of your trust. Especially for those in charge (directly or indirectly) of their own marketing, too much time is devoted to selling, leaving not enough time for handicapping and contemplation.

It's easy for even the newbie amateur to avoid many of the worst offenders. If the print or electronic claims of some bombastic bet maven seem to good to be true, they likely are. Anyone exclaiming that they've gone >70% posting any significant volume of selections against the spread in football or basketball over consecutive seasons is a fraud. Even better . . . you can count the potentially-legitimate operations among all those who spend significant-five-figure sums on print/electronic marketing on one hand, with fingers left over.

At first glance, it would seem bewildering that on so many of the better sports-betting boards, broad harassment of touts as a group goes hand-in-hand with (a) intense curiousity regarding the current selections of established advisors bearing above-average reputations, and (b) any number of folks posting in a manner emulating the presentation forms of the genre, with the inclusion of relevant commentary, trends and stats, and star-ratings reflecting the relative degree of confidence the poster(s) may have in the opinion(s) expressed.

It might seem a case of "you become what you hate", but my guess is that the touts' style of writing found in the best of the selection sheets available online or at the nation's better-stocked newsstands has become ingrained in the minds of message-board denizens. And why not? The majority of the veterans willing to interact online who continue to be involved in the football wars absorbed a good deal of what they've learned from the content of the weekly selection sheets (dating back to the Gold Sheet's origins some half a century back, and progressing through Power Sweep, Sports Reporter, Playbook, Winning Points, and so many others) that have become so pervasive.

Anyone who would deny the considerable forward progress displayed by the more proficient operators within the sector would be an ignoramus and/or personally incapable of a more developed understanding of the handicapping process. The Gold Sheet is an infinitely-better product today than it was during The Early Years. You can vehemently disagree with many of Phil Steele's conclusions, but it's impossible to knock the personnel knowledge embedded in each seasonal Power Sweep. Today's Sports Reporter is the most amusing read of all the premium-priced newsstand items, and Marc Lawrence's Playbook is tough to beat if you're not looking to spend an arm and a leg delving into the trend/database train of thought so powerfully developed in these days of superpowered computer programs.

The late Mike Lee's emergence with his commercial weekly handicapping presentation, largely based on trends, was a enormous step forward on the player's side. Before that time (i. e. virtually the entire public presentation of such information prior to the mid-70's), fundamental handicapping ruled, and Bob Martin's numbers kept the wise guys sufficiently at bay to make sports bookmaking an enormously lucrative profession. But when Lee and the technical boys demonstrated what could be accomplished with their mode of thought (especially in the college game), books found themselves under attack, a more sophisticated approach to making prices was required, leading the way to Roxy Roxborough and the Las Vegas Sports Consultants.

We continue to go back and forth. The players attack, the layers parry. Think of casino blackjack. If you enjoyed full contemporary knowledge of how well the game CAN be exploited by a sharp player with a sufficient bankroll, and you found yourself dropped into Southern Nevada, circa 1959 (prior to the publication of Thorp's Beat The Dealer), just how well could you do for yourself? Same for the guy who found himself armed with some of today's most powerful computer slants for exploiting football, vaulting back into time to deal with the college and pro games of the early '70s.

Today's sports wise guys weren't born with the information they needed, and they didn't pick it up out of the air by magic. Once they had the command of the required powers of reasoning, were able to swap/develop information with some comparably-sharp friends, and knew where to lay their hands on useful database information to focus and powerboost their efforts, they were on their way. And the sustained exchange of sporting-website banter doesn't hurt a bit.


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