For many of us, the calendar cannot hit September soon enough. The leaves are changing color, the kids are headed back to school, and football season is upon us. For much of the football viewing public, fantasy football is back as well. There is no denying this huge trend sweeping across the country and all over the world as people congregate to form leagues (often times with multiple teams) with obscure names as "Short Bus", "Diaper Changers", and "Touchdown My Pants". Each year, thousands of fans sign up for the first time - intrigued from watching their friends/co-workers play in prior years, they think that they have got the skills and knowledge to draft a solid team and lead them to a championship. Fueling this explosion is the Internet and the numerous free websites to play fantasy football - ESPN.com, Yahoo! Sports, and NFL.com just to name a few. For these newcomers, pre-season football games met nothing the year before. But this year, pre-season means everything. Pre-season football tells us who will be cut, who will start, and who will be the featured player at his position. Magazines suddenly popped up solely for Fantasy Football (which is played only four months out of the year). Yet, these subscriptions are stuffing the news stands and magazine racks alike as potential fantasy owners flock to pick up a copy and get an edge with some "expert analysis". Fantasy owners rely on the experts' analysis because most of these owners pay entry fees (wagers), sometimes big money, to join these leagues. Wagers can range from as little as ten dollars a team to as much as $100,000. When there is prize money at stake, owners will get any advantage that they get from the "experts".
Each year, these "experts" offer advice on how to draft your team, who will perform the best at each position, and how you should manage your fantasy team. During the course of the season, owners continually turn to these "experts" as the weekly calendar creeps ever so closely to Sunday. Many of us feverishly check the Internet, often multiple sites, for player updates ranging from injuries to weather conditions.
Then, when Sunday comes, we plop down in front of our new flat-screen TV with a beer in one hand on our iphone/laptop in the other. We do more than simply watch our favorite team play, we now pay closer attention to the out-of-town scores, and eagerly await the in-game highlights from around the league. Other fanatics head to the bars, scouting for the ones with the most televisions that can show the most games at once. Suddenly, our head is on a swivel, and we hit sensory overload! We realize that we cannot watch more than one game at once, we are cheering one second, and then cursing the next - and all because our fantasy player was not the intended target of a big play.
We even find ourselves cheering against our favorite team. As you solely stand up and cheer for that touchdown against your team, you find yourself looking around the room as everyone else is starring at you, wondering why you just cheered against the team that you are sporting the jersey of. You quickly feel the need to explain yourself, and exclaim, "Sorry, that quarterback is on my team!" You may still be showered with some jeers, but most of them understand, because they would react the same way (especially when money is involved). I recall posing a hypothetical question to a co-worker once (who was an avid Jets fan), and said, "If the top prize for your league was $5,000, and your championship game came down to one play, which involved a player playing against the Jets, and the Jets' post-season was on the line, and you could control the outcome, which scenario would you choose?" He quickly answered, "I'd take the money, there's always next year". I then asked him if the prize was less, say $1,000, he then changed his response.
Fantasy sports has become a huge following, an obsession if you will. Many of the white collar workers that sit behind a computer everyday, find themselves spending several hours per week (while on the clock at work) researching ways to make their fantasy team better. This billion dollar a year addiction is probably costing corporations billions of dollars in terms of lost salaries and Internet usage due to employees focusing more time on improving their measly $10 fantasy football team rather than analyzing that $2.3 million investor report that needs to be posted soon.
So is this really an evil addiction, or a necessary means to help keep us entertained as we drudge about our lives during the end of the year? For me personally, I look at the situation as a way to hedge my enthusiasm. In prior years, I would just watch and root for my favorite team. However, if they fall out of the playoff picture (sometimes rather quickly) or they are on a bye-week, I lose interest. Enter Fantasy Football. Now, I have more than one reason to watch football, I have several, thus more chances for me to win (either monetarily or fanatically). But if you asked me which one I would rather have, I would rather see my favorite team win. After all, it's only money, and there's always next year.