by Kevin Pulsifer
Flashback to Saturday afternoon. I’m planning out my homework schedule for the next week. I’ve got homework in four of my five classes, including two papers, so I should probably get started soon. But I can’t seem to focus.
It’s football season. But perhaps more importantly, it’s fantasy football season.
Fantasy sports have engulfed the world, not just America, in the last few years. It’s estimated that between 5.5 and 7.5 million people aged 16-64 play fantasy sports. But that’s just in Britain.
According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, the average fantasy sports player in 2013 has been playing for nearly nine years.
Granted, us college kids have only been following sports for around nine years. But fantasy sports have been around for decades.
The first fantasy football draft took place in 1963, known as the GOPPPL (Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League). It was a touchdown-only league, and you drafted fullbacks. Things have certainly changed over time, but the frenzy remains (as does the GOPPPL).
Whether you’re in a 10-team standard league, a 12-team keeper league,or a 16-team PPR (point per reception) league, the fact of the matter remains: Americans love sports, they love having something or someone to root for, and they love the feeling of being in control of their own “franchise”.
But with these variations on leagues comes variations in statistics. As a math major, I live and die for numbers. But I’ve never seen a nation so excited about point totals, completion percentages and net punting averages.
As baseball continues to move in the direction of advanced statistics and metrics (see Beane, Billy), fans of the sport are becoming more and more knowledgeable about the game they love. With more knowledge comes more arguing among friends as to who really knows more.
It’s fun to spend your entire Sunday tuned into the football games, praying that LeSean McCoy rushes for 200 yards or that Tony Romo throws four interceptions, in the hopes that you can proclaim to your buddies that you saw it coming from the start.
We also thrive off of pity. Anyone who’s ever played a fantasy sport (or filled out a March Madness bracket, for that matter) knows the feeling of having your team lose by one or two points on a last second field goal or basket.
After crying more tears than you did after your recent breakup, you then feel empowered by the agony of defeat and brag about how good your team would have been if only things had been a little different.
Sometimes, though, it’s a stretch. “I was down 15 points with just my kicker left, and if Peyton Manning had thrown seven interceptions instead of touchdowns, I’d have won!”
No pity for you.
We all feed off of the emotions associated with winning and losing, and taking part in these festivities with friends makes the whole experience worthwhile.
But what really makes fantasy football so addicting? Deep down, why do millions of people worldwide care so much about creating fake teams on the Internet? Perhaps it is the idea that, just as in sports, anything can happen.
Often times, the owners with the best draft and most knowledge win the league. Sometimes, a team who underperformed early may come back and win the title. But sometimes, the unexpected happens.
Last year, I ran a 14-team league with some of my friends at school. My roommate had never played fantasy sports before, and simply did it for fun, to go along with the rest of us who were all involved in the craze. He picked Toby Gerhart because the name sounded funny, and drafted Nick Toon to relive his childhood TV years.
Overall, his team wasn’t bad, and if he had paid attention to the league, made a few waiver claims, rearranged his roster on bye weeks, he could have been competitive for the whole year.
But for months, he never checked. His team, named after a witty Snoop Dogg reference, sat at 3-6 after nine weeks, with four weeks left in the regular season.
I felt obligated (along with my other roommate) to inform him that his team was not yet eliminated. Win out, and there was a chance he could make the playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker. I couldn’t have been more stupid.
He proceeded to win in week 10, week 11, week 12 and week 13. He made the playoffs on a tiebreaker, knocking out my other roommate. In the playoffs, he beat me. I then scored a league-record amount of points in the practically meaningless consolation game, and my advice to a friend basically cost me $100.
You can guarantee I’m not helping him this year.
Needless to say, fantasy football manages to accomplish multiple things. It obviously manages to give competitive sports fans an outlet to proclaim themselves as winners.
But more importantly, it brings friends and families– I’m also in a 12-team league consisting solely of blood relatives– together, so that every Sunday can be Thanksgiving dinner. It creates laughter, sorrow, hope, and stories that form bonds year after year.
Renowned ESPN analyst Matthew Berry has spent over a decade predicting fantasy sports for a living after working as a screenwriter in Hollywood. This past summer, he released a book describing the true value of fantasy sports titled “Fantasy Life”.
It hits deep down, portraying the connective aspect of fantasy sports. From insane last-place punishments– one league forced the loser to get a Justin Bieber tattoo– to uplifting stories about friends– another league plays in the memory of a friend who passed away from cancer, and half of the money goes to a foundation in his name–, Berry magically explains how something that started as a stat-nut’s hobby has become a worldwide phenomenon.
His book has reached The New York Times bestseller list for six straight weeks. It was released less than two months ago.
Somehow, I still haven’t read the book. I’m becoming more anxious by the second.
Maybe I’ll buy a copy soon. Maybe I’ll buy 17 copies, one for each league that I’m in. Yes, I’m crazy. No, I don’t care what you think.
I’ve converted enough non-believers into fantasy lovers to know that I’m not overdoing it. I’m even in a league with my girlfriend, who continues to say that fantasy sports are ruining a fan’s devotion to a team, and will ultimately be football’s downfall. Maybe I’ll convert her eventually.
Hopefully, I’ve just converted you.