McNeil’s Point Spread Creation Was A Boon To Football


McNeil was one of football’s greatest innovators.

The National Football League has always embraced betting, after all illegal and now legal betting on NFL games created additional interest in the product. The Super Bowl is the biggest betting day of the year in America. The National Football League and college football gained an awful lot of popularity because of a man who never played the game. Both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame should consider putting Charles K. McNeil, a compulsive gambler, into their museums as a builder. In the 1930s, Charles K. McNeil may have invented the point spread which made the outcome of football games more interesting than just final scores for bettors. It is not known if McNeil came up with the idea or borrowed it but McNeil refined it and opened up a new, albeit illegal, industry. People bet on scores, not which team won. The line is the point where every football bet starts.

McNeil was a smart guy. He had a master’s degree from the University of Chicago and he was friends with legendary college football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg but allegedly never told Stagg about his betting business. McNeil was a numbers or analytics guy. He had his own booking making operation in Chicago during the 1940s. He shut down his operation in the 1950s because he didn’t want any partners in the endeavor. There will be an awful lot of talk about this year’s point spread. The Super Bowl’s most famous point spread was 17 ½ in Super Bowl III on January 12th, 1969. The Baltimore Colts NFL team was a 17 ½ point favorite to beat Joe Namath and the New York Jets AFL team. There are all sorts of illegal and legal bets that are placed on games now. McNeil changed betting.

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(AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)