Fulfilling the football fantasy, off the field

For the average student, Monday nights typically consist of trying to get a jump on the week’s work and perhaps taking a break to watch some prime time television. But for students who play fantasy football, Monday night is football night, and the beginning of the week has a completely different meaning.

Fantasy football started in 1962, when a group of reporters and employees traveling on the Oakland Raiders’ bus decided to hatch out a league for their own enjoyment. Today, with the accessibility of the Internet, fantasy football is becoming increasingly popular, with the number of players across the country approaching 30 million, according to some estimates.

“The Internet has made [fantasy football] much more accessible,” Nicol Addison, Yahoo! Sports spokeswoman, said. “A lot of people that traditionally wouldn’t have played because of the time … now don’t have to use Excel files and fax machines and compute all the scores because you have services that do that for you.”

For instance, online outlets like Yahoo! Fantasy Sports Football provide live scoring, updating teams and leagues on their statistics automatically.

And while avid football fans make up much of the participants, anyone can play.

“I think it’s interesting how … a lot of people who do it aren’t the biggest football fans in the world … but they still play fantasy football,” said Zach Groen, a senior who plays in a league with other students from Tufts and is a senior staff writer for the Daily.

One reason the sport is so accessible is that it does not really take a lot of skill to play — at least on a basic level. Though managing can get as complicated as the individual wants it to be, the basic concept of fantasy football is simple.

After drafting, league participants manage their players based on their actual game statistics. These “managers” take out injured players, predict which ones are going to improve the team and make trades with other teams. Most of the actual gameplay occurs online, where different providers calculate statistics to see whose team comes out on top in a given week.

“Basically the idea is that it’s the same as a national football team,” senior Kevin Fender said. “You’re the head coach, you choose each position [and] your players.”

One of the most entertaining aspects of playing may be the draft itself. Various leagues have their own draft-night traditions, but a common theme among them seems to be beer, meat and some good healthy competition.

“Our tradition is that we usually get a keg and order a lot of wings, and we all gather in my friend’s living room, and everyone has their computers out,” Groen said. “It gets [really] fun. The first couple of rounds go by pretty quickly because everyone kind of knows who they want, and then people start really trying to search for some lesser-known names,” at which point, he said, the heavy competition sets in.

Fantasy football is popular among avid fans not only for the competitive aspect, but also because it brings new meaning to professional football itself.

“I’m a huge football fan to begin with; I love the NFL and I always have … but the nice thing about fantasy football is that it puts a lot of emphasis on games that wouldn’t really matter,” Groen said. “So you have a game like … the [Cleveland] Browns versus the Cincinnati Bengals, and no one cares about that game unless you live in either of those two cities. But if you [had] Braylon Edwards [when he was] a receiver for the Browns, you might watch that game or at least follow the score online and actually care about [seeing] if he’s going to have an impact on that game and therefore impact your fantasy team.”

Fantasy football is also a great opportunity to take a break from the daily grind, and thus participation has become vastly popular among employees in offices. Tufts Student Services has its own league, and the competition can get pretty fierce.

Student Services Representative Matthew Duncan explained that fantasy football is a great way to keep in contact with friends and get some relief from the commotion of everyday life.

“Everyone’s lives are so crazy,” he said. “It’s nice to have an excuse to get together.”

Duncan plays in three different leagues — one with Tufts Student Services, one with a group of his friends in Boston and another with his cousins who live in California and Virginia. He noted that the competition is a good way to keep in touch with people he might not see otherwise. “You get to talk to people that you wouldn’t talk to normally,” he said.

Addison echoed this opinion. “It allows people to stay connected with each other even if they [aren’t] in the same physical location,” she said. “What we have on Yahoo! is a lot of people that aren’t located in the same vicinity — so you have friends from college that’ll play together or former co-workers — and it allows people to stay in touch.”

Some groups also choose to put money on their games in order to make them more interesting.

Yahoo! Fantasy Football is sponsoring a competition this season between 11 different mayors from across the country. The mayors will go head-to-head each week, vying to win $15,000 to donate to a local sports charity in their city.

On a slightly smaller scale, the players in Groen’s group of 12 throw down $30 each per season. But win or lose, Groen said, it’s worth every penny.

“It provides three months of entertainment for 30 dollars,” he said.

Perhaps more important than anything else, however, is the ability to earn bragging rights.

“I like the trash talk, and you get to be creative with your team names,” Duncan said. “And there’s usually one person in the league who’s kind of obnoxious, and you don’t want them to win.”

“My team is 63 and 0 right now,” Fender said. “No big deal.”