It’s that special time of year again—you know the one—scarves, boots, changing leaves. And football. Specifically, fantasy football. And if you’re in a relationship, you’ve probably noticed a general lack of your significant other, or at least a noticeable change in their ability to be present—as in, off of their phone/laptop/Ipad and actually in the moment. Maybe you’re into it too, in which case, what are you doing here?! Go check your stats!
But for the rest of us (you know, the ones who think a cornerback is just a mispronunciation of quarterback), a helpful guide:
A Brief History
In 1963, Oakland Raiders limited partner Wilfred “Bill” Winkenbach, Raiders pubic relations manager Bill Tunnell, and reporter Scotty Stirling met at the Milford Plaza Hotel to develop what would later become fantasy football. Initially called the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League, the men drafted their teams in Winkenbach’s rumpus room. Each roster contained two quarterbacks, four halfbacks, two fullbacks, four offensive ends, two kick/punt returners, two field goal kickers, two defensive backs and two defensive linemen.
The league gained popularity and became several leagues. Without the use of computerized stats, fantasy football took even more time—manual calculation of statistics acquired via newspaper certainly slowed down the rate at which the leagues grew. But by 1997, CBS launched the first fantasy football website. In the next three years, every major sports media website followed suite. In 2010, even the NFL got in—now, fantasy football is their most important marketing tool.
Fantasy football is now played by over 19 million people competing in public and private leagues.
Types of Leagues
There are 10 types of fantasy football leagues, but for our purposes, let’s discuss the two most popular.
• Head to Head League: in this type of league, a team is matched up against another team each week and the winner is determined by the highest number of points. Points are determined by the website or customized by the commissioner and are based on the performance of the players in their starting lineup. In this league, wins and losses are the most important statistic because they correlate with the league champion, i.e.—most wins=playoffs.
• Total Points League: fairly self-explanatory, the total points league is one in which points accumulate on an ongoing basis. League standings are then determined by total points throughout the NFL regular season and teams advance to playoffs based on point total.
The fantasy football draft has become something of a pop culture phenomenon, referenced often in movies and on television and takes place before the season begins. It can happen via serpentine method (in which owners take turns drafting players and the owner who picks first in the odd rounds picks last in the even rounds. It can also happen via auction, in which owners bid on players. Players remain on an owner’s roster until they are dropped or traded (except in the salary cap league, where rosters are locked), at which point they can be claimed by others. No player may be owned by more than one fantasy team within the league, except in the case of salary cap leagues, where everyone has the same pool of players to choose from.
Because leagues take place largely online, many drafts are done over the internet. Ideally though, owners will gather for an annual draft scheduled weeks in advance. In the tradition of Winkenbach, they’re typically held in basements, bars, and boardrooms.
Scoring rules vary greatly by league, so it is important for owners to know what they’re dealing with. The basic structure for scoring is the gain of points from touchdowns and yardage gained. A sample scoring system might look like this, (from fooballguys.com):
1 point every 10 yards rushing
1 point every 10 yards receiving
1 point every 25 yards passing
4 points for each touchdown pass
6 points for each touchdown run
-1 point for each interception
1 point for each extra point
3 points for each field goal
No matter the scoring system, it is important that owners use it to dictate their draft, starting lineups, and trades. Which is where strategy comes in—likely appeal for 19 million dudes and gals.
This gets complicated and extremely varied, so we’ll keep it brief. Most owners mess up their first year in a fantasy football league. Instinct tells you that the best team ever will be the team comprised of your all-time favorite players. Instinct is wrong. Depending on the league, certain positions (as noted above) have the ability to earn more points. If an owner wastes all of their money on guys they “just know will be great” but don’t have the power of points, they tend to tank.
What You See
So, friends, what you’re seeing when your boyfriend/mother/girlfriend/uncle stares and shouts at the television during every.single.game, even for teams they don’t care about, teams they hate—is a new form of couch coaching, an involved spectatorship that puts the focus on the player and the game instead of the team. It creates a shift in which owners cheer for certain things to happen during a game, regardless of win or loss.
What’s at Stake
While many leagues exist to be played with groups of friends and coworkers, there is a variety to choose from. Sites like DraftStreet offer daily and weekly cash prizes, while friend leagues may issue one cash prize at the end of the season. Most leagues require some sort of buy in, which can range from $2 to over $400.
Love it, like it, or leave it, fantasy football is here to stay and, actually, provides an interesting look at strategy, even for those who are ambivalent about sports. By understanding the fantasy game (at even a basic level), you’ll at least look cooler at the water cooler.
Julia Randall is a sports writer with a sports anger problem that doesn’t impress her parents. When she’s not lamenting a loss or celebrating a win, you can find her knee-deep in her fantasy football lineup.