Footballers strategize for fantasy season

Few have what it takes to be an executive in professional sports. For those who don’t make it to the luxury boxes, there is another way to put sporting expertise to the test: fantasy football.

Fantasy football, a strategic game that spans the length of the NFL season, focuses on statistics as a barometer for performance. Each member in a league runs a team consisting of players from any of the 32 NFL teams.

The owners are rewarded for their picks when their players attain a certain amount of yards or score touchdowns or field goals.

The players are drafted in the beginning of the season and can be traded, cut or benched by the team owner. Typically, fantasy-football leagues are comprised of friends, family members and co-workers.

Fantasy football was first introduced in the 1960s but has become overwhelmingly popular in the past 15 years because of its presence on the Internet. In the past few years, the NFL and the networks that carry its games have capitalized on the popularity of the game.

Sports networks such as ESPN and Fox Sports have entire shows focused on fantasy football that feature experts who offer strategy for the upcoming weekend’s games. In 2009, FX premiered The League, a sitcom centered around friends and their fantasy-football teams. The show begins its fourth season Oct. 11.

Chris Fitz, a senior from Homer Glen studying marketing, has played fantasy football for eight years. He said it has become a big part of his life during the fall.

“I generally spend 25 to 30 hours a week reading sports news, scouting reports, scanning forums and watching tape, then about eight to 10 hours actually watching gameplay,” he said. “I run my fantasy team as a business.”

Fitz is vice-commissioner of a league with a $200 buy-in, which is what it costs to enter the league. Many leagues, however, do not compete for money.

Owen Freeman, a senior from DeKalb studying aviation technologies, is the commissioner of two free leagues. He said he thinks buy-ins are for more serious fantasy football players.

“I just recently started my leagues — one last year and one this year. It’s hard finding serious players that will stick to the end, and a buyout will scare new players away,” he said.

The members of his leagues do compete for a trophy. Though Freeman is a Chicago Bears fan, he said he spends more of his free time devoted to the teams in his fantasy leagues.

“I pay more attention to my fantasy teams, especially being a Bears fan. When they clearly are not going to win the Super Bowl, or even their division, it gives me something to look forward to during the football season,” Freeman said

Tim Dillon, a senior from South Elgin studying advertising, is a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, but he said he finds himself picking players from other teams.

“I actually try to stay away from all Buccaneers players at most times. In past years I drafted Bucs, but it turned out to be bad luck, so I steer clear from picking favorites,” he said.

Dillon, who has played fantasy football since age 8, said he thinks the best strategy to draft a team starts with basic research. Freeman’s gameplan centers around running backs.

 He said although rushers can be prone to injury, the risk is worth the reward.“Running backs are the most valuable players in fantasy football,” Freeman said. “The argument is that quarterbacks are the safest bet, as they will most likely not get injured, but an elite running back will get you more points.”

Fitz said putting his research on the line is his favorite aspect of fantasy football. He said he thinks his team this year can go either way.

Dillon said he is far more confident.

“There is no doubt I think I am going to win. I think everyone in my league thinks they will win, too, but I let my team do the talking, and I will take it week by week,” he said.

Freeman said he thinks the odds are against him, but he can see one of his teams winning the championship. He said he enjoys the connection with friends the most.

“I enjoy fantasy football because it brings people together. In my league with my old friends, guys I rarely talk to but maybe once a month, we will call each other weekly to talk trash and scheme against others in the league. The guys I work with talk trash daily. I think camaraderie is the best part,” Freeman said.

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