Over the course of several years, I have been asked to explain, rationalize or defend fantasy football. After receiving the legendary "Huddle Gal" posting on the Sideline message board, I decided I should finally take the time to explain the attraction of the hobby from my own standpoint. With your own drafts likely done or soon pending, hopefully you can draw a few things from this for a decent retort when you are asked "what's the big deal?".
What it Ain't
Before I explain what Fantasy Football is, I think it is initially important to discuss what it isn't. Here are some of the misconceptions that revolve around our pastime.
- Fantasy Football is Gambling - This one always makes me laugh. Under the definition of gambling, it can entail paying money in the hopes of receiving back rewards. I would argue the same could be said of any activity requiring an entry fee and that provides a reward to winning participants. Most any tournament qualifies. Let's see - golf, bowling, car racing, bass fishing, and so on. The most humorous aspect is that the few people who are in this for the money are most likely the ones who will get back none. Countless people spend hours researching players, forecasting performances and trying to convince the league newbie to trade Terrell Davis. These are the ones who most likely will win and in doing so spend more on preparation than they could ever get back. Trust me - if this is "gambling" we all need to figure out how to better spend five months for less money than we put in.
- Fantasy Football is for Geeks - Another interesting perspective. If by "Geeks" it is meant to refer to people with good analytical skills, technically literate who enjoy sports, then I guess okay! I would further the definition to include that the average fantasy football player is also very competitive and enjoys the mental stimulation of challenging other people within their league, which is not typically "geek-like". The commercial showing ESPN's "Net-Boy" is not even representative of the average fantasy football fan which is what makes it humorous.
- Fantasy Football is not Real - This is the one that can actually bother me. One factor I wish I could go back in time and change is the name "fantasy football". I could live with Rotisserie football or Armchair football or my own favorite - Huddle-Ball. But by the name it says it is not real and those who know nothing about it assume it is something akin to playing Monopoly with NFL figurines instead of the shoe or the racecar. It is no more or less "real" than any game, with the exception it is exponentially more challenging than Bridge, bird-watching or my pet-peeve "circle the word" games (the freaking words are already there! You are circling words that are already there! How could you NOT win?).
What it is
Fantasy Football is like playing chess without knowing at any moment exactly what any of your chess-pieces will do, if they will ever repeat the same actions again or if they will suddenly just disappear right when you need them. It is a mental challenge that pits your knowledge and skills against a dozen other people in a dynamic arena filled with variables, strategy and to some degree luck. It is an extension to a passion for a sport that entails understanding the game at many levels. It is the next logical step when your own competitive needs and love for the game exceed the desire to merely sit in the stands and rah-rah for the home team. It is the next level that allows a person to go from "being one of them" (an NFL team) to strategically deciding which of them (NFL players) are to be allowed on your team.
First and foremost for myself and I believe those who really become involved in the hobby, it is a competitive outlet for a love of the game of football. Football and all sports to some degree appeal to people because it returns us back to a time where there were clear lines between good guys and bad guys. In the business world, at home and socially, the impetus is to always arrive at a "win-win" resolution for all involved. Society demands that the weak are helped and the strong are taxed. There is something very appealing in a deeper sense to pursuing a competition wherein you want to win, you want to be a part of the winning team and the fact that someone loses is fine with all parties. Sports, and in turn fantasy sports, appeal because it is not about political correctness or making sure that that we all win. It is a simple, harmless way of being able to pursue competition that reinforces our need to be competitive and in the course of a single Sunday afternoon satisfies that need well enough that we can return to being the student, manager, engineer, nurse or such and be able to contribute to the greater good without a growing feeling of "me against them".
As if the benefits of competition are not enough, fantasy football also is a social event. For anyone who truly enjoys the hobby, there is absolutely nothing that is as recreatively enjoyable as draft day. Getting together with a group of friends, each secure with the knowledge that they know best. Watching the drama unfold as bad players get taken early and good players hang on late. Watching a self-proclaimed expert draft a retired player. Taking a player that once you commit their name to the draft board, half the room spout expletives because that was their next pick. It is fun in a way that is addictive and impossible to explain to someone who does not feel the need for competition, mental challenge and camaraderie. It's all about getting together, laughing, putting your knowledge and skills on the line and at the end all shaking hands and agreeing "I have THE team".
In short, it is about football and fun and friends and knowledge and skill and gamesmanship. You can get involved to any degree you like - from a casual rookie owner armed with a cheat sheet to those who go way over the line with spreadsheets, statistics, reference material, box scores, player evaluations and in extreme cases - a web site (the final frontier).
And now I must prepare for my own local league that started me out so long ago. Wish me luck as I do you. May your sleepers all be there and the evening prove to be well worth the wait.
Viva La Huddle-Ball !