An Outsider’s Guide to the Quirky Sport of Fantasy Football

The game of Fantasy Football is centered around the National Football League. Pictured above is an NFL game at Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco.

Kenneth Pancake

Have you ever caught your friend casting glares of frustration on his phone, muttering, “Why did I draft two kickers?” Or maybe your relative keeps on talking about trading some gentleman affectionately named “Big Ben,” as if Big Ben was under your relative’s ownership? Maybe he or she use the word ‘fantasy’ a lot, such as “I was last place in my fantasy league, so I had to get a tattoo of Justin Bieber’s face on my back.” Finally, maybe you are asking yourself why your little brother has a t-shirt that says “Commish.”

Well, what you have most likely encountered is one of the oddest (and one of the greatest) creations in American history – the sport of fantasy football, or ‘fantasy’ for short.

The lingo can quickly scare away a newcomer, or an outsider. But at its core, the national trend is easier to understand than you might think. Basically, fantasy football considers the performance of real-life NFL athletes and assigns a point value to each player over the course of a game. Each player has a team that plays another team of NFL superstars each week.

Why is it so widespread? First of all, the NFL is by far the most popular sport in the United States, and one of the most profitable in the world. For example, in 2015, the league achieved $13.5 billion in revenue. For reference, the world-famous Premier League (an association soccer league based in the United Kingdom) only brought in $5.3 billion. Fantasy football gives fans of the game a chance to be a part of the action, so to speak.

Like the NFL, every fantasy football season starts with a draft. A draft is the process by which each owner will build a team of NFL players. Every league will do it differently – some like an auction method, others use what is called a ‘snake’ draft, and some will use their own system. In a snake draft, each owner will have a chance to pick one player per round to put on his or her team. This goes on until each owner’s team has a full roster complete with a bench, just like in real football.

Who do you draft? In a standard league, you can draft quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, entire defenses (such as the Chicago defense and special teams as a whole) and kickers (don’t draft more than one of these less-valuable units, or you’ll look quite silly).

The next step is to select which ones you think will score you the most points – that is, which players will do the best in their actual NFL games to bring you fantasy points.

NFL points and fantasy points aren’t made equal. For example, while a rushing touchdown is worth six points in both fantasy and in real life, quarterbacks will gain points for passing yards in fantasy that they won’t in real life. Teams can trade players and pick up new players who were left undrafted during the preseason.

The best leagues are the ones with consequences. In the book “Fantasy Life,” Matthew Berry (author and ESPN fantasy analyst – yes, people make a living analyzing this game) tells a story of a league based here in Omaha that makes the last-place finisher sport a permanent tattoo (the contents of which would be determined by the winner).

Every league is led by a Commissioner (qlso known as the “Commish”), and people from all facets of life come together to enjoy the game. Famous fantasy football players include Daniel Radcliffe, Paul Rudd and Jay-Z, among many others. The sport brings together entire companies, families, church groups, neighborhoods and any semi-permanent fixture of humans.

So now you know a little bit more about your little brother’s t-shirt, or your friend’s bad tattoo. Just remember – it’s only temporary, and your friend or relative will eventually look back up from his laptop screen. In January.