College Basketball Parlays

College Basketball Parlays Explained

By Loot, NCAA Basketball Handicapper,

One of the more common wagers in college basketball is the parlay. Even those who never placed a bet in their lives have at least heard of a parlay, even if that can’t explain what it is. In this article, we will explain the ins-and outs of parlays, while discussing some of its pros and cons to you as a bettor.

Simply put, a parlay is a singular wager with multiple games on it. You pick between 2-12 teams and they must all cover the spread for your parlay to be successful. The potential payouts are lucrative and therefore attract a lot of action from players looking to notch a big score. Here are the customary payouts on parlays, though it might vary, as some books have risen their payouts to attract more customers.

Two-Team: 2.6-1
Three-Team: 6-1
Four-Team: 10-1
Five-Team: 25-1
Six-Team: 40-1
Seven-Team: 75-1

Eight-Team: 150-1
Nine-Team: 300-1
Ten-Team: 700-1
Eleven-Team: 1100-1
Twelve-Team: 1800-1

A lot of bettors, especially at the beginning level, are mesmerized by these payouts. They think how wonderful it would be to bet $10 on a 12-team parlay and hit a payout for 18 grand. Well, go ahead and try it. Those college players you are betting on might be grandfathers before you hit one of those.

That’s the problem with parlays–they require perfection. The smart bettor isn’t gunning for perfection, or anything close. He’s just trying to eke out a living by winning more straight bets than he loses and having that carry over to the long-term. A two-team parlay can perhaps be justified on some level. Beyond that, these are very speculative bets.


In addition to them being difficult to hit, the odds are all out-of-whack. The lucrative payouts only serve to blind some bettors from the fact that they are getting juiced to death on parlays. Even on a three-team parlay, you only get 6-1 when the true odds are 7-1. That represents a level of juice and vig that supersedes what you’re subjected to when just making straight wagers. And it just gets worse from there, with the more extravagant parlays carrying even more juice.

Let’s do an example, so we can see how they work. You make a three-team parlay with Duke, Baylor, and San Jose State. Here are the lines:

Cincinnati +8 vs. Duke -8
Baylor -12.5 vs. SMU +12.5
Bowling Green +7.5 vs. San Jose State -7.5

So, now you have a $100/3-team parlay on Duke, Baylor, and San Jose State. If Duke wins by at least 9, Baylor wins by at least 13, and San Jose State wins by at least 8, you win $600 and also get your $100 wager back. But what happens if Baylor and San Jose State covers the spread, but Duke wins by exactly 8, making that part of your parlay a “push?” That game just gets scratched off your ticket like it never existed and your 3-team parlay now becomes a 2-teamer. You would then win $260, while of course receiving your $100 back.

You can also parlay totals, which works like normal parlays picking sides. In addition, you can parlay money lines, when just betting on which team will win the game. Money line parlays have no pre-determined payout schedule, since the odds will vary. The payout will be determined by the odds the team has that you put on the parlay. Money line parlays are one of the only parlays where you can really make a case for playing them. Parlaying two favorites on the money line is sometimes a good move.

For the most part, however, parlays deserve their reputation as “sucker bets.” When you win 3 out of 4 games you selected, you should be making a profit. In a parlay, it would be as good as going 0-4. Picking mostly winners should be reflected in your bottom line–your bankroll. Playing parlays forces you to be perfect and renders mere excellence useless. That’s not a good thing.

Look, if you’re in Vegas once every couple years and that’s the only time you bet on college basketball, go ahead and make some parlays if you feel like it. The bad juice isn’t that much of an issue over the course of a day or two. But if you want to be serious about wagering on college hoops, tread lightly with parlays. This type of play flies in the face of what we know about winning. We should never ask too much of ourselves or accept odds that poorly reflect the true probabilities of what we need to happen.