college football picks

College Football Betting: Should I Buy the Hook?

So often, sports bettors consider this question: Should I buy the hook? This article utilizes betting data from the 11 most recent college football seasons to inform the answer to that very question.

The “hook,” in betting parlance, means half of a point on a point spread. For example, you might see the following on a sportsbook’s odds board:

-110 Florida State -3.5

The hook is the .5 attached to the 3.5. Of course, in college football, there is no way to score a half-point, but since 2003 (through the 2013-2014 college football season), three of the five most popular closing point spreads involved that half-point (the hook): -3.5, +2.5, and +6.5. Should you, in fact, buy the hook? The easiest answer is: there is no easy answer. Based on historical college football betting data, there are circumstances when buying the hook is beneficial and circumstances when buying the hook is terrible. Any discussion that involves buying should discuss price. We would do well, therefore, to reform our original question to the following: Under what circumstances should I buy the hook?

As with any purchase, buying the hook has a price. It used to be the case that buying the hook in a standard “side” bet (a bet on the point spread) would cost an additional 10 cents*. In other words, the side you wanted with the purchase of the hook would cost you $120 to win $100 (instead of $110 to win $100- the price you would pay without buying the hook). Many sportsbooks have raised their prices on certain hooks, and quite purposefully, those certain hooks coincide with player advantages. Nowadays, some sportsbooks charge 20 (or more!) additional cents* ($130 to win $100) to buy those half-points, so when is it advantageous to buy that hook? Without boring you too much with the mathematics behind it all, the break-even point, or edge, when the price is 10 cents (-120) for the hook must exceed 4.33%. The edge for the hook at 15 cents (-125) needs to exceed 6.35%, and for a 20-cent hook (-130, which is becoming quite common) the edge must exceed 8.28%. Those edges help us determine if paying more is truly worth the purchase. We refuse to pay more for a bet that amounts to less net money.

To illustrate some of the math, let us examine the most common college football hook, 3.5. Since 2003, there were 368 closing college football point spreads that were exactly 3.5 points. The favorite beat the spread 177 times and lost 191 times. Of those 191 losses, 27 of them- 7.34%, were by that half-point. In other words, the favorite won the game by 3 points, failing to cover the spread by exactly half a point- the hook. Taking this real-life sports-betting example, note what happened to the bettor who bought no hooks, the “Hookless Bettor,” and the bettor who always bought the hook (paying $120 to win $100), the “Hook Bettor.”

Hookless Bettor Hook Bettor
368 games x $110 = $40,480 spent 368 games x $120 = $44,160 spent
177 wins x ($110+$100) = $37,170 returned from wins 177 wins x ($120+$100) = $38,940 returned from wins
$40,480 – $37,170 = $3,310 lost 27 pushes (original bet is returned) x $120 = $3,240 returned from pushes
$38,940 + $3,240 = $42,180 returned
$44,160 – $42,180 = $1,980 lost

The Hook Bettor saved $1,330 by buying the hook for $120 to win $100 on every underdog of exactly 3.5 points. A key component to the Hook Bettor’s advantage was paying just $120 to win $100. Look what happens to the Hook Bettor when he is forced to pay $130 instead of $120 to win $100:

Hookless Bettor Hook Bettor
368 games x $110 = $40,480 spent 368 games x $130 = $47,840 spent
177 wins x ($110+$100) = $37,170 returned from wins 177 wins x ($130+$100) = $40,710 returned from wins
$40,480 – $37,170 = $3,310 lost 27 pushes (original bet is returned) x $130 = $3,510 returned from pushes
$40,710 + $3,510 = $44,220 returned
$47,840 – $44,220 = $3,620 lost

At the $130 rate, the Hook Bettor lost an additional $310 compared to the Hookless Bettor. Comparing the Hook Bettor’s experiences, he lost an additional $1,640 when paying $130 instead of $120. Using our above example, the Hook Bettor SHOULD BUY THAT HOOK IF THE PRICE IS $120. At the same time he SHOULD NOT BUY THAT HOOK IF THE PRICE IS $130. The conclusion? PRICE MATTERS.

Rather than doing all the calculations, you just need to know the expected edge on each hook AND THE PRICE you must pay for it. With a better understanding of how some of the math works behind these conclusions, please use the following table as a guide to when hooks should be bought in college football betting:


*For the purposes of this article the betting amounts are based off of $100, so those 10 cents are calculated as 10 dollars.


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