Covering the spread

A sports gambling concept usually meaning to lose, but not as badly as expected.

The point spread is initially set at whatever the bookmaker expects the margin of victory to be, and then fluctuates based on the course of betting before the game (the line is set for the express purpose of having half of the betting public bet one way, and the other half the other). For example, I might see a college football betting lines table in my local paper, partially reproduced below:

Favorite        Points      Underdog
VIRGINIA TECH......7........Syracuse
         (at Jacksonville, FL)
Wake Forest........2............DUKE
The first line shows that VT is playing at home (ALL CAPS designates this) and is favored by 7 points over 'Cuse. The line can be referred to as "Tech by 7", "Tech minus 7", or "Cuse plus 7". This means that unless you bet straight up (winner of the game, no questions asked), if you take VT, the Hokies' score must be more than 7 better than the Orangemen for you to win your bet; if you take Syracuse, you win as long as Syracuse doesn't lose by 7 or more. (If VT actually does win by 7, both sides keep their money.) If Tech were to win by 3, Syracuse can be said to have "covered the spread."

It's not an exact term. Some will say that a team covered the spread when they did in fact win the game -- most of the time this is an expression of shock, as in our above example where if Memphis beat Florida by 3, someone might exclaim that "Memphis not only covered, they actually won!"