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Magazine prep a challenge

Magazine publishers Marc Lawrence, Phil Steele and Kenny White have been proceeding as if the football seasons will start on time in the wake of coronavirus-pandemic concerns.

Frankly, they have no choice.

On Saturday, Aug. 29, college football is slated to open with Marshall at East Carolina, California at UNLV and New Mexico State at UCLA. The NFL is scheduled to begin Thursday, Sept. 10, with Houston at Kansas City.

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Lawrence got the jump on his competition Monday, when he sent his dense manuscript file from his Fort Lauderdale home to his Wisconsin printer. The 28th edition of his Playbook Football Preview Guide goes on sale nationwide July 7.

He says the Gambler’s Book Store and other Las Vegas outlets will have it in stock by mid-June.

“It’s a two-for-one, if you will,” Lawrence said of his magazine’s collegiate and professional contents. “The average football season is jonesing for sports and information. With the legalization of sports wagering in so many places, everyone’s quest for information is getting stronger.”

The lack of spring practices, usually a mine of information, has most affected his operation. Only Connecticut and Coastal Carolina got in all 15 sessions, four other programs practiced double-digit days and 52 teams did not line up once before the pandemic put sports on hiatus.

“It was very difficult to find the information we normally rely on,” said Lawrence. “We had to dig deeper. It made the task a bit more difficult this year, but we did it. We moved forward on the presumption that we will have a college and pro football season this year, so everything is status quo.”

Steele’s comprehensive College Football Preview débuted in 1995. An associate said the production schedule for the 26th edition has been delayed to late July, and his website advertises its availability to ship in August.

On his Twitter feed, Steele has been thanking as many as 10 coaches daily for their input, to ensure the accuracy of their team’s information.

White is targeting early August for the release of his second College Football Power Ratings magazine. It details player and team ratings, to be configured and compared to point spreads. Their adjustments require diligence.

“Kenny is giving you the guideline to get started,” says handicapper Richie Baccillieri. “I know how hard it is, especially (for beginners). Power ratings have to get massaged over the course of time. Kenny is giving you a starting point, ratings he has been massaging for years.”

In the 1970s, White collated, on a Ping-Pong table, his oddsmaking father Pete’s first three football guides. In ’77, 14-year-old Kenny typed the entire manuscript. He has massaged odds at the Stardust, Nevada Sports Executives and Las Vegas Sports Consultants.

For his second installment, he had been ahead of last year’s frenetic production pace by two months. White had handicapped 115 of the nation’s 130 Division I programs. Official transfer-portal matriculations began last week. With settled rosters and concrete schedules, he will release—probably by late June—a PDF version of his book.

He plans to have 5,000 printed — he went with 2,000 a year ago — around the third week of July. After another 10 days, to bind and allow them to dry, they will be shipped to stores and available online.

White is juggling home-field conundrums. LSU’s Tiger Stadium holds more than 102,000. Full capacity is common. What if officials only allow a fraction of that inside Death Valley?

“If I have a seven-point home edge for LSU, but there are only 15,000 people, that’s now a two-point home edge,” he said. “It is not quite as intimidating.”

Same goes for Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, which holds more than 106,000 fans, an advantage that White pegs at 6.5 points. In a reduced capacity, White would lower the Nittany Lions’ edge to two points, too.

White read about a program that normally plays host to crowds of 64,000 making plans, at least at the season kickoff, for 16,000.

“(Fans) won’t be able to go to the concourse to stand in line to get food; waiters and waitresses will walk around, take orders and deliver,” he said. “When the game ends, they’ll release every section church-style, a row at a time, to eliminate herding.”

He’s hoping for clarity as deadlines beckon. A year ago, he began his maiden effort on May 8 and mistakes were made in the mad scramble. This year, he started in early March. Throughout the 2019 season, he added to a list of improvements for his second go-round.

Every player who redshirted a season will now have that reflected in his year. Depth charts have been shifted beside statistics, eliminating redundancies. There are more ATS trends, and yardage figures and turnovers, for past results. Again, he predicts the score of every game.

White had underrated 10-4 Wisconsin and 11-2 Air Force, and overrated 7-6 Michigan State. He made those real-time adjustments, so it’s wise to follow White, as well as Lawrence and Steele, on social media.

Former Ohio State cornerback Jeffery Okudah Jr., who went third in the April draft to Detroit, provides a keen view into White’s process. An average collegiate player, in his system, rates a 0. Every half-point raises that person’s stature. White rated Okudah at ½ to start the 2019 season.

“But I watched Ohio State play, and by the third week I upgraded him a full point,” he says. “In the fourth game, I had him at 1½. He was that good.”

Since a quarterback’s role is so vital to a team’s fortunes, White deigns an “adjusted stats rating” that makes them three times as valuable as any other position player. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow started last season at 6. By the end of his 15-0 and national-title campaign, he was a 12.

If White had rated Burrow a 12 at the start, “I would have had (the Bayou Bengals) rated the No. 1 preseason team in the country,” he said. “That six-point jump was gigantic.”

Lawrence sympathizes with White’s attendance issues.

“From a handicapping aspect, it would be a big factor yet to be determined,” he said. “I don’t know about the fans. I’m hoping universities and colleges are able to open safely. If they are, I would expect to see a plan in place favoring social distancing.”