When Florida Atlantic University head coach Dusty May capped a raucous celebration by cutting down the nets at Madison Square Garden last weekend, it was a moment that even he could not have envisioned when he took the job in 2018.
Then a top assistant at the University of Florida, May swiftly signed a contract to lead FAU’s men’s basketball program without viewing its facilities in Boca Raton. Upon arrival, he walked through an arena that resembled a high school gym, with a dilapidated locker room and strength and conditioning center.
A former student manager for legendary coach Bobby Knight at Indiana, May returned to his hotel room and contemplated leaving the job before even coaching one game.
“I started crying and said, ‘I just committed career suicide,’” May told CBSSports.com.
Fast-forward five years later: May is two games from leading FAU to a national title. Following a ho-hum 19-15 campaign in 2022, the Owls opened the season with odds of 2500/1 at Caesars Sportsbook to cut down the nets in Houston.
But from the outset, FAU showed signs of emerging as a top mid-major. The Owls knocked off Florida, May’s old team, in their third game of the year en route to a 21-1 start. By December, one sports bettor locked in odds of 750/1 at Circa Sports on FAU to win the national title. That bettor stands to collect a payout of $225,000 on the $300 wager if FAU wins two games in Houston.
Two big #MarchMadness Florida Atlantic futures are still alive:
$300 at 750-1 at @CircaSports to win $225,000
$500 at 200-1 at @DKSportsbook to win $100,000
— Ben Fawkes (@BFawkes22) March 26, 2023
“As the year went on, the more special we saw this team,” FAU Athletic Director Brian White told Sports Handle. “When this team plays their best ball, it’s pretty special. They play so unselfishly, they play so together, it’s a great form of basketball for all of us to watch.”
Few lucky tickets still alive
The Circa ticket is one of a handful that will cash if FAU completes its improbable run.
Dave Menashe, a realtor in Brooklyn, made a $500 futures wager on FAU before the tournament that will pay $100,000 if the Owls win it all. He placed the bet several weeks after receiving a tip from a buddy vacationing in Florida, ESPN.com reported. FAU appeared on Menashe’s radar after his friend watched the Owls dismantle UTSA by a score of 106-66 on Feb. 23.
An Illinois bettor, meanwhile, locked in three bets at Caesars at the opening price of +250000, according to ESPN. The bettor placed another $100 on the Conference USA champions at 500/1. All told, the bettor stands to collect approximately $800,000 if FAU wins the title. Separately, Caesars took a $200 bet on the Owls at the same odds of 500/1. If listed on PropSwap, an exchange for sports betting futures wagers, the ticket would sell for $16,500, a PropSwap spokesman told Sports Handle.
This ticket would sell for $16,500 on PropSwap! https://t.co/Tmcl0AvUGG
— PropSwap (@PropSwap) March 26, 2023
Florida Atlantic earned a spot in the Final Four with a thrilling 79-76 win over Kansas State in the East Regional finals. On the lower level of Madison Square Garden, a former FAU student sat on two futures bets that will pay a smidge over $25,000 if his alma mater prevails in Houston. The former student did not hedge his bet during the Elite Eight, but indicated that he might this week at the right price. Last Saturday, his $50 wager on the Owls (250/1) could have been cashed out for $400 seconds before the tip.
Since Florida does not offer legal sports betting, the fan placed the wager in Columbus, Ohio, where the Owls won their first two games of the tournament. The bettor, who spoke to Sports Handle on the condition of anonymity, graduated from FAU in 2017, a year before the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic PASPA decision.
“Back then, it wasn’t hard to find a bookie on campus, and it’s not hard to find a bookie now,” he told Sports Handle.
Since seeding began in 1979, only one men’s national champ has had pre-tourney odds longer than 35-1: 2014 UConn at 95-1.
With two more wins, FAU would shatter that mark! pic.twitter.com/5Ry1HNZCBF
— ESPN (@espn) March 26, 2023
The Seminole Tribe of Florida briefly offered online sports betting in November 2021 via its Hard Rock Sportsbook app. The tribe pulled the app, however, after a federal appeals court ruled that its compact with the state of Florida violates federal law. Under the ruling, bettors using a tribal app must be physically located on tribal lands when placing a wager. The ruling is still under appeal.
Florida, the nation’s third-most populous state, is potentially losing millions in revenue by not offering legal sports betting. FAU will meet Miami (Fla.) in Monday’s national title if both teams win on Saturday night.
A new contract
May last week guided the Owls to wins over two Power 5 teams in Tennessee and Kansas State. On the court, FAU is led by versatile guard Johnell Davis, who has averaged 17.3 points per game in the tournament. After the win over Tennessee, Davis told Sports Handle that he felt extremely calm even as his team stood one game from the Final Four. The cool demeanor, Davis explained, comes from May, who often reminds him not to put undue pressure on himself.
Regardless of this weekend’s outcome, May will be in Boca for the foreseeable future. On the eve of the Final Four, May plans to sign a lucrative, long-term contract with the school, CBSSports.com reported on Friday.
Exclusive: Dusty May and FAU AD Brian White tell @CBSSports May is staying at FAU and will sign a lucrative long-term contract after the F4.
FAU also has more than $10 million to invest in facilities+arena this offseason and in the years to come.
— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) March 30, 2023
FAU is following in the footsteps of others such as George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth, Butler, and Loyola (Ill.) as upstart mid-majors to reach the Final Four over the last 20 years.
“I love to see it because it’s an opportunity for those outside of the national spotlight to be on the big stage,” May said at a Final Four press conference on Thursday. “We’re going to put our guys in the best situation, environment, every single day, to be the absolute best they can be.”