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September 1, 2014

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Meet the man who sets the spread

Kenny White wants to match teams for the bowl games, too

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Steve Marcus

Kenny White’s company sets point spreads used by 90 percent of Nevada’s sports books. Potential client losses leave him little room for error.

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  • Kenny White on the general weakness of the BCS polls

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  • Kenny White on why his poll is better than the BCS

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  • Kenny White on the Big Ten and Pac-10 not wanting to change the current system

Final LVSC Top 10

1. USC

2. LSU

3. W. Virginia

4. Georgia

5. Oklahoma

6. Ohio St.

7. Missouri

8. Florida

9. Kansas

10. Virginia Tech

Final AP Top 10

1. LSU

2. Georgia

3. USC

4. Missouri

5. Ohio St.

6. W. Virginia

7. Kansas

8. Oklahoma

9. Virginia Tech

10. Texas and Boston College

Final USA Today Top 10

1. LSU

2. USC

3. Georgia

4. Ohio St.

5. Missouri

6. W. Virginia

7. Kansas

8. Oklahoma

9. Virginia Tech

10. Texas

Hawaii wouldn’t have played Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, and Illinois wouldn’t have faced Southern California in the Rose Bowl. LSU wouldn’t own another championship trophy.

Kenny White would have sent that hardware, or delivered it himself, to Trojans coach Pete Carroll.

If White, 44, chief operating officer of Las Vegas Sports Consultants, were in charge of the bowl system and naming a national champion, college football might not be such a mess.

“We could have made much better matchups,” he says. “There wouldn’t have been a point spread over a touchdown. We would have made games that were very competitive.”

Until playoffs decide a de facto titleholder, as they do at the other levels of the sport, the champion of college football’s top division will continue to be as mythical as it was before 1992.

In that season, the Bowl Coalition first tried to settle the issue. Then came the Bowl Alliance, the precursor to today’s Bowl Championship Series.

Computers and polls are supposed to pit the top two teams against each other, but the process is still imperfect, rife with flaws that can make it arbitrary and subjective.

White laughs at the current system.

“It’s very weak,” he says. “It’s smoke and mirrors.”

Until those playoffs arrive, no group is better equipped to determine the best teams in the country, or the champion, than Las Vegas Sports Consultants.

It establishes the college football point spreads used in 90 percent of the state’s sports books.

If it sends out a line on a game that is off by a point, White conservatively estimates, it could cost a casino $5,000. Multiply that by his 100 or so clients, and 50 or so games a week, and the damage could be heavy.

White can’t afford to be wrong.

He assembled a partnership and bought the company in 2003. It’s on the second floor of a nondescript, manila-colored office complex south of McCarran International Airport.

A dozen flat-screen TVs dominate a wall in the main room, with a few orderly desks nearby. The central nervous system of every sporting line in Nevada seems unusually tidy.

“Most people ask, ‘Where’s the smoke and the cocktail waitresses and the poker game?’” White says.

In his white-walled office, two stacks of white file boxes, filled with hardback folders, stand in front of a tall bookcase.

Two computer screens occupy his L-shaped walnut desk. On one, he has the 40-yard-dash times of more than 20,000 football players.

That’s how he knew so many people were wrong about LSU’s supposed speed advantage over Ohio State in last week’s title game in New Orleans.

White tapped into that database. He had 71 Ohio State players, who averaged 4.69 seconds in the 40. At LSU, 75 players averaged 4.72.

But LSU had been off only 36 days. Ohio State hadn’t played in 51 days. Moreover, the Tigers had another intangible edge by playing in their own back yard. LSU won, 38-24.

“We will know that a team that wins four consecutive football games will be the best team in the country,” White says. “Right now, we’re getting Ohio State with 51 days off. We’re not getting their best effort.”

During the summer, White devotes about three hours to each of the 119 top-division programs to determine a rating for each team by evaluating every player.

For four hours, as he scans game statistics between Saturday nights and Sunday mornings during the season, he alters those ratings according to each team’s performance.

Around noon on Sundays, for about 20 minutes, White meets with four colleagues, who have their own ratings and systems, to set the upcoming weekend’s lines.

Daniel Steinberg of The Washington Post has been writing about the LVSC ratings since the company started producing them three years ago.

A colleague tried calling administrators in the Southeastern Conference last fall to inquire about incorporating the LVSC poll into the BCS system.

“We offered our services,” White says. “We really haven’t gotten a response.”

He opens a folder.

“Behind the wall,” White says. “Some of the secrets of the business.”

He plucks out his USC and LSU pages. He laughs about a controversy about USC quarterbacks John David Booty, whom he rated at 27.5, and Mark Sanchez, rated 17.5.

“And I read a report in the L.A. Times saying bench Booty and start Sanchez, that Sanchez is a better quarterback,” White says. “And I’m thinking, these (writers), what, are they on drugs?”

He thought the same thing when USC lost to Stanford. Then the first BCS poll came out, and three of the six computer polls didn’t even include the Trojans in their Top 25. One had them 25th.

White rated USC No. 4 that week.

“The Trojans took a loss and had injuries, but I still knew they were the best team in the country,” White says. “I’m thinking, how could you possibly use something that is that far off?”

Georgia smashed Hawaii, 41-10, in the Sugar Bowl. USC rolled Illinois, 49-17, in the Rose Bowl.

“We laugh a little,” White says. “You just have to make a line on Hawaii and Georgia. The whole time you’re thinking, why are these two teams playing?”

LVSC put together a 16-team playoff during a lull between bowl games, and it installed USC as a 1-point favorite against Oklahoma after playing out the first three rounds in the mythical final game.

After the bowls, for the first time, White and his crew produced a final rating of the real teams. USC, at 112.8, just edged LSU, at 111.4, for No. 1.

White laughs when asked whether he pondered sending Pete Carroll, the playful USC boss, a trophy or a congratulatory letter.

“But that’s not a bad idea,” White says. “That would probably be the thing to do. It would get us even more publicity.”

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