How Charles K. McNeil Helped Make Football More Popular

McNeil was a smart guy.


Let’s not pretend betting on football is a relatively new exercise. Legalized sports betting in a number of states is new but sports betting has been around more than likely since the Gladiators days at the Coliseum in Rome, Italy. The National Football League and college football probably 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 shrines 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 a final score 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.

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 he never told Stagg about his betting business. McNeil was a numbers guy and taught a future President of the United States, John F. Kennedy at a private school, Riverdale School, in the Bronx, New York. 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 the point spread, the Super Bowl’s most famous point spread was 17 ½, in Super Bowl III on January 12, 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 bets that are placed on games now. McNeil changed betting.