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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Irrationality of Fantasy Football

The Irrationality of Fantasy Football
This past Sunday, instead of thinking about the birth of our Lord and Savior as I should have been, or even thinking about all the cool presents I would be getting later in the week, I was instead obsessed with half a dozen real football players collected on my not-real fantasy football team. Worse yet, I wasn't even concerned with how these half dozen players fared in the real games. I couldn't care less whether they won or lost. All I cared about was their stat lines: how many yards they ran, caught, or threw for. (For those who are luckily unfamiliar with the game, here is a primer.) If my fantasy team won, I'd go to the championship game next week and I'd be in the money. Both first and second place get paid ($500 for first, $100 for second). But if I lost, I'd play for a meaningless third place game that paid butkus.

I won't get into the nitty gritty, because I've learned firsthand that there are few things in this world more boring than hearing, in excruciating detail, how someone won or lost a fantasy football game. Suffice it to say that I lost, and the $50 I paid to enter the leagues is lost and gone forever. So, while the defeat is fresh in my mind, and before the long off-season starts to woo me with nostalgia and the siren song of geeky victory, I have to ask: is it all worth it?

There are eleven other similarly obsessed football fans in each league. So while I feel I might have some sort of edge, and while I have won more money from fantasy football than I've put into it over the past decade, the odds really aren't that good that I'll win in any given year. Let's say that with twelve competitors, I have a one in ten shot at victory.

And as anyone who's played will tell you, it sucks to lose. The season is as long as it is miserable. Even when it's clear your team will not contend, you still have to go through the motions each week and trot your group of losers out there into cyberspace. This isn't like a team sport where even if we suck, we at least get to hang out and exercise and drink beer after the game. Fantasy football is a lonely thing, made lonelier by the fact that I am a grown man playing fantasy football.

On the flip side, when I win, it is fantastic. The money is nice, as is the comical little trophy declaring my offensively-named team as this league's champion. Like any gracious winner, I get a lot of pleasure by lording it over my friends and competitors, and generally being a huge ass about the whole thing. I'll remind my friends that I was the one who won this year in casual conversation. I'll wax poetic about waiver wire strategy and proper in-season management. I might even refer to myself as, "The Champ," in third person.

Still, by playing, I am giving myself a 90% chance that I'll be unhappy about the whole thing for about six months, and a 10% chance that I'll be over the moon for six months. From a psychological perspective, it is a terrible bet. But from a financial perspective, I am betting $50 to possibly win $500 with 10:1 odds. It's as even a bet as you'll find.

I feel I need to make this decision now, before the months wear on and draft day approaches, because over the offseason I will forget that losing sucks. All I will think about in that moment is the fun of draft day and the chance of future victory.

So, what do you say, blog readers? Should this, the night that our Savior was born, be the day that my fantasy football career dies?

In all seriousness, I do wish you all a very Merry Christmas, filled with hugs from loved ones, mugs of eggnog, and plates piled high with all the fixings.


*Photo is from Beth and Christian at Flickr Creative Commons.

24 comments:

  1. Oh, you crack me up. Personally, I don't really get the whole fantasy football thing. I suppose if you look at it purely as a game of chance it might make some sense, but for me football is all about getting to watch the team play together. It's a game of strategy, luck and skill with a chunk of violence and random expressions of rage tossed in for good measure. Trying to boil it all down to stats just totally misses the point IMHO. A player's stats are meaningless in a vacuum... it's a team sport. I think I'd rather watch a Pop Warner game than play fantasy football. Clearly, I'm in the minority on this one though! I say if you enjoy it, then $50 is not a huge amount to waste... but if it were me I'd rather spend the money on a ticket to an actual game.

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    1. I'll admit that I enjoyed watching football much more prior to fantasy. I don't know if that's because I was just much younger, or if reducing the game to mere statistics and injecting a conflict of interest has had an impact.

      Agreed on the use of $50: there is NOTHING like the parking lot of a stadium in the hours before a game.

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  2. I play fantasy football mainly because it's a big deal in my wife's family. The draft is always a big get-together at my father-in-laws, and everyone has a good time picking their team. While I do enjoy playing, I've accepted the fact that it's primarily luck. Cheat Sheets and projections are based on historical performance, which can be a bad indicator of how well a player will do the next season. I felt like I drafted well but a below-average season for Tom Brady and two of my top WRs getting season-ending injuries basically made it very difficult for my team to win.

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    1. David, draft day is the one thing that keeps me on the fence. I love that day more than most holidays and my birthday combined. As you noted though, some bad luck can derail a season pretty quickly. All the preparation in the world doesn't make up for the fact that we don't have a crystal ball.

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  3. Um, if it is that irrational as the title says, may I vote for the night should have been dedicated to our Savior. The fantasy football? Well.. save it for some other time. It can be fun, isn't it?

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    1. Ha! Well, suffice it to say that there was no football on Christmas Eve...just a blog post about it.

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  4. I am a Vikings fan so I have to play fantasy football so I have a chance to cheer for a winning team. I'm playing for first now and I will likely win. Its not just luck. Some players are much more consistent. I started our fantasy football league at work and I do think that its helped me get to know some of my coworkers better. I am a huge fan of fantasy football and I wouldn't give it up.

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    1. Vikings fans have had a tough row to hoe the past few decades. I like Cassel a bit though: he might just get the job done.

      As for the fantasy football, I agree that there are some benefits. After 15 years of playing, I think the luster has begun to wear off a bit.

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  5. I just wish I would have thought about a way to capitalize on this silly fantasy. What's that company that is doing 100's of millions hosting fantasy football?

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    1. I hear you, Elroy. When I first started playing fantasy football, we calculated all the scores by hand and sent out emails updating everyone with the scores. Then websites started coming along and everything changed.

      There's big money in it now. One of the few ways you can gamble in the US without too much worry.

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  6. Lol, isn't that the case for most things (winning is awesome, losing... not so much ;)). B doesn't participate, but a lot of my friends do and it's amazing how people get so serious about it. I don't really have an opinion, but if it's starting to become less fun over time, then perhaps that's when you can throw in the towel? But, if you're still having fun with it, then I suppose there's no harm? B loved his Seahawks jersey by the way (I went with Lynch) - thank you SO much for your advice with selecting one and what to look for! :)

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    1. Ha! Yes, I could have totally boiled the post just down to that. Losing sucks worse than winning feels good. The rub, for me, is that I forget that losing sucks...like all males, I just think I'm going to win every time. :)

      I'm so glad the jersey was a hit. Lynch is a great choice, and he's responsible for maybe my favorite run, ever:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSZdntRnQVg

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  7. Yea Done By, Fantasy is worth it! It makes watching football all the more interesting. I think Fantasy has increased the profits surrounding the NFL, because what you have is someone like me watching the games to see what their players are doing, something that before fantasy I never would have done. The NFL has so many more eyeballs watching now that Fantasy football has become so popular.

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    1. Hi Jim,

      I agree that it's a boon for the league. I personally think fantasy perverts the actual viewing experience a bit, as everyone watching is, at best, at least as concerned with individual player stats than in the game itself (and at worst, the stats are all they care about). But maybe the increased viewership makes it all worth it.

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  8. LOL, my "little" brother (at 36 and 6 ft. 4) is a fantasy football fanatic as well. Personally, I wouldn't waste my time and money, but then again, you'd probably be just as bored doing scrapbooking. :-) I don't think there's a right or wrong answer, but I do trust you'll make your decision based on what truly makes you happy, my friend. :-)

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    1. Thanks, Laurie! I get the feeling that this is one of the things that I do that doesn't really add happiness to my life, but it does keep me connected with my friends back in San Diego. I doubt we'd talk as much without the league. I'll have to do some more thinking, but I appreciate the vote of confidence!

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  9. I think if you are enjoying yourself, then sure- $50 is a small price to pay for months of entertainment. But if you're just trying to win and you're not into the whole experience, then yes, I think it would be frustrating and miserable.

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    1. Yeah, the bloom is kind of off the rose as far as fantasy football goes. I think I'd be more concerned with keeping the relationships going with the other guys in the league.

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  10. Heck no! I'm still in a league that my friends and I started back in our high school years, we're all around 30 now. I love getting to do fantasy football with them because there's times where we all get too busy to keep in touch and visit, but every year we'll have our fantasy football league and join back up to have some fun.

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    1. I'm in the same boat, Passive Income Pursuit. I'm in my thirties and have been playing with the same guys for about 15 years now (weird to say that).

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  11. I totally get the irrationality of fantasy football! Last season was my first season ever and I was the champ! This season - I was dead last. My team was just hit with a ton of unpredictable injuries!

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    1. That's rough, Lisa. You know what I mean about how a losing season sucks. All the preparation in the world doesn't make up for bad luck, either.

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  12. I used to really enjoy fantasy football...it didn't matter if my team was out of contention. Any Given Sunday right! I'd take pride in knocking off other teams. For $50, it is worth the entertainment...plus, you've won more than you've put in. Nice! I haven't won in years. Actually this year, I pulled out of most leagues except one (just to keep in touch with old friends). I just don't have time for it nowadays and don't think it's worth it for me.

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    1. I feel the same way, Andrew. I'm really only playing now to keep in touch with guys in the league.

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