Sports

Living in the ever-growing fantasy football world

Sunday mornings used to be so relaxing. I could sleep in, make a pot of coffee and read the paper from front to back. Sunday meant no responsibilities. It was a day to recover after a hard-charging Saturday night and get ready for the upcoming work week.

That all changed during the first weekend in September when the National Football League season kicked off. Sundays are now a day of stress followed by extreme jubilation or deep despair. It all depends on the outcome of my fantasy football game.

“Hi, my name is Casey and I am a fantasy football-oholic.”

This stupid, make-believe game has taken control of my life. I used to laugh at the “geeks” who constantly talked about drafts, third wide receivers and the Kansas City Chiefs’ depth chart. Now, I’ve morphed into one of them.

But fantasy football is currently the hottest thing since sliced bread. Millions and millions of men and women are currently in some sort of make-believe league and the fantasy football industry is set to generate over $2 billion this NFL season.

Networks devote entire preseason programs to it while hundreds of magazines and Web sites are produced each year to help players put together lineups.

The premise of fantasy football is simple. Team owners draft real NFL players, make weekly lineups, then get points for how their players do during the actual games. Owners go head-to-head throughout the season, culminating in the playoffs and a fantasy Super Bowl.

In other words, it’s just people reliving their glory days of their sports competition or something that makes non-athletes feel like they know something about the sport of football.

But why has fantasy football become so big?

Honestly, there isn’t just one answer. Reasons like a genuine love for the NFL, proving you can manage a team better than the next know-it-all or just plain winning some money are tops on the list. But the Internet has also played a huge factor in transforming the fantasy football industry.

The computer has made it more accessible to traditional fans. Until the mid-1990s, fantasy players had to track statistics on paper. With the Internet, stats could be crunched and drafts held online. Now players can access real-time scoring, video highlights and fantasy-specific content at dozens of sites across the Web.

But there’s no doubt about it, the ever-increasing popularity of fantasy football has changed the way people sit and view NFL games.

Here’s a perfect example: You are watching the Seahawks play inside a local watering hole with your Shaun Alexander jersey and they are down six points late in the fourth quarter. The Baltimore Ravens are driving down the field and the only thing you are hoping for is that Jamal Lewis, your starting running back, scores the winning touchdown — meaning six more fantasy points. Never mind that your favorite team is now going to miss the playoffs.

Is nothing sacred?

Fantasy football also glorifies offensive stat hogs like Randy Moss at the expense of team players like Tom Brady. Moss is one of the best fantasy players even though he’s a huge headache for his team. And all Brady does is win Super Bowls, while not posting eye-popping personal stats — something that doesn’t matter in fantasy football land, where stats are more relevant than the final team score.

The game has also changed the way fantasy footballers do business while supposedly at work.

According to a recent study, America’s addiction to fantasy sports could cost the nation’s businesses as much as $36.7 million daily. The rough estimate was compiled by the executive search firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Although Challenger admits its estimate is, at best, an educated guess, it touches on a significant issue for office managers as to how much access they allow employees to e-mail and the Internet. And how much freedom to surf, chat and generally slack off online playing fantasy football.

The study assumes that some 14 million people play fantasy football and that each of those players spends 10 minutes of every work day managing their team. Multiply 14 million by $2.62, the average amount an American worker gets paid in 10 minutes, and you reach the $36.7 million total.

So please, don’t tell my boss.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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