The Girl’s Guide to Fantasy Football
Last week my sister’s boyfriend was telling me about their recent vacation to New York, and he said something that completely shocked me. “Wednesday night we had our fantasy football drafts, so we stayed in and did that,” he explained nonchalantly. Hold up. Since when has my sister, who prefers to spend her Sundays reading about inequality and social strife in the Dominican Republic, gotten into fantasy football?! She’s always cared more about Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz than the NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, so what gives? When I asked her about it, she said, “One way to make your boyfriend have the biggest smile you’ve ever seen is to tell him you’re joining a fantasy football league.” She’s not alone—it feels like all everyone is talking about right now is fantasy football. But what exactly is fantasy football? Why are men and women across the nation getting excited about their league picks? Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about fantasy football.
As Wikipedia describes it, fantasy football “is a statistical game in which players compete against each other by managing groups of real players selected from American football teams.” The game was founded in 1962 by Wilfred Winkerbach, an Oakland-based businessman and partner in the Oakland Raiders. Due to the time-consuming nature of the game’s scoring, fantasy football was slow to spread, yet it gradually built a following. Scores would be printed days after a game in the local newspapers. However, it wasn’t until 1997, when CBS launched a free fantasy football website, that the game really took off. Within a couple of years, every major sports media outlet had its own fantasy football league website, and today it is the most important marketing tool for the NFL. More than 19 million people compete online nationally, and every outlet from Yahoo to ESPN has its own fantasy football app.
There are all sorts of different leagues. Wikipedia lists out over 10 different kinds, but the ideal number of people in a league is 12. This way each team ends up with a nice mix of players. The person in charge of the league is the commissioner. A good commissioner is organized, on top of things, and motivational. It is up to the commissioner to ensure that people are paying attention to their players and teams. Injuries, bye weeks, and sexual harassment charges are all things that can alter your team’s roster. The commissioner is also responsible for coordinating the league, collecting league dues, and enforcing weekly and season-long punishments.
In fantasy football, you are the general manager of your own football team. You decide which players you want to own, then you select the players from real NFL teams. The players’ real-life statistics allow you to compete against other teams to see which owner does the best job. ESPN explains it like this: “As the football season unfolds, each week, the on-field performance of the players you have decided to put into your starting lineup will help determine the success or failure of your fantasy team. It's up to you to bench slumping players, to work the waiver wire to grab that hot free agent, or to try to wheel and deal to get rid of that aging veteran before the wheels fall off, in exchange for a rookie about to catch fire.”
Since we are in the first week of football, drafts need to be made soon. Your first draft can be somewhat stressful. Everything is automatically generated by the computer. Each manager is given a number; if there are 12 people in your league, you’ll get a number assigned: one, two, three, four, etc. One chooses first and so on and so forth, down to 12. Most drafts are snake drafts where you count up to 12, then go back down from there—so whoever draws 12 gets to make two picks in a row. Note that there is normally a time limit for you to make a player decision, so you need to think quickly.
Although it depends on your league rules, in general, each week you play a quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, a tight end, and a kicker. All of these players are on the offensive team. For defense, you choose one team’s entire squad, be it the 49ers, Colts, or Steelers defensive teams. You also have up to five players on your bench at any given time. It’s a good strategy to have a backup quarterback.
Note that if you have the players on your bench and they end up playing and doing well, you don’t get the fantasy football points. Points are given purely on the players’ statistical output. Wikipedia breaks it down like this: “A touchdown might be worth six points while each yard passed, rushed, or carried may be worth a certain amount of points, and so on. In most cases, players earn points for passing, rushing, and receiving yards.” The fantasy league lasts through the entire regulation season of football. The manager with the best record wins the league. (Smack talk is encouraged in fantasy football, and many groups of friends have been playing together for years, so if you are new to the sport, cut yourself some slack and just have fun.)
A huge part of fantasy is the financial rewards and the embarrassing things season losers are required to endure. League dues are a form of monetary buy-in to participate and typically go toward a championship reward. League dues can be used to reward the season champion and the second and third place finishers. They can also reward weekly high scorers a smaller amount of money, which offers an opportunity to recoup your league buy-in even if you don't make the playoffs.
League dues can be as low as $20 to $50, or into the hundreds. Some leagues increase their dues each season. Punishments for coming in last place are very common as well. They range from an astrology letter to the league, to conducting next year's draft in your underwear, to actual tattoos. There are weekly low-scorer punishments like changing your team name and logo, too.
A superstar quarterback isn’t the only thing you need in fantasy football to succeed. You’ll also need wide receivers. Since these are the guys who actually score the touchdowns, they often get the most points in fantasy leagues. However, a strong running back will score more consistent points. It's important to look at what kind of team your fantasy players are on. If it is a team with a good running back and mediocre quarterback, then it will rely more heavily on the running back and not as much on the wide receivers.
Pay attention to the schedules. If you draft a starting quarterback and know he has week seven off, then when you decide it's time to select his backup, make sure to draft someone who isn't also off that same week—otherwise you won’t have a quarterback playing! Practically everything that real managers do, you can also do in fantasy leagues. Want to trade that poorly playing tight end? Go right ahead. Ready to take things to the next level with that free agent? Scoop him right up.
Are you in a fantasy football league?