Apple pie, tossing tea into the harbor and bald eagles are all aggressively American. One thing that screams USA even louder? Fantasy football. It’s played by over 29 million Americans annually, accounting for nearly one in 10 individuals. But is it really all that it’s chalked up to be? Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy fantasy sports. Maybe too much. I’m a three-sport fantasy athlete (don’t take that sentence seriously). Well, if I like fantasy sports other than football, you’re probably thinking, “Stratton, you probably just aren’t good at fantasy football.” That’s not true either. I’ll have all of you know that I’ve notched top-three finishes against my Daily Campus constituents in each of our first two years, including a championship in 2021. So what is it then? Let’s dive into the pitfalls of fantasy football.
The main gripe I have with fantasy football is how draft-day-dependent it is. Many leagues draft months before the season starts. Though this is not smart given the trades, drama and depth chart proceedings that occur during training camp and preseason, leagues that pick players days before the season also run into this issue.
Think of a fantasy owner who drafted Nick Chubb this year. Valuable running backs are an endangered species and are few and far between. Unless that owner is willing to give up another precious asset, there’s no way to replace Chubb’s game-changing production. No amount of effort that one puts in can make up for an unlucky draft night. Too much of the game’s skill is concentrated on an hour-long draft.
Let’s compare this to superior fantasy sports like baseball or basketball, played by 12.5 and 11 million Americans. Say you drafted Mike Trout this year, one of the perennial top hitters in the MLB. When he got injured on July 3 and played one more game for the rest of the season, although disappointing, things are far from over for your team. That was the case for the champion in my fantasy baseball league, who drafted Trout and still managed to bounce back.
The reason his team was okay is because effort beats draft-day performance in fantasy baseball and basketball. With the daily aspect, every day matters. A player must stay engaged to succeed, especially in leagues that allow for one change every day. The effort isn’t even difficult. Unless you like to overthink roster decisions, running a winning team takes fewer than five minutes every day. Set an alarm, set your lineup and move on with your day. If that’s too much effort, you probably don’t deserve to perform well.
Fantasy sports should reward this effort. That’s why it’s so frustrating when you do all sorts of mental calculus involved with running a football team just to get ousted by your sports-agnostic uncle or coworker who got lucky on draft day and needed no future team maintenance.
In baseball with pitchers and basketball with daily games, there’s a strategy necessary. Different players play on different days. With pitchers starting every five to six days, do you grab a bunch of guys who start twice in the same week or do you rotate one pitcher on a daily basis? In basketball, do you switch one player every day or do you go bolder and more strategic, only looking for players who play in back-to-back games? These are the questions that exist in the daily fantasy sports that are nonexistent in football. Sure, you have weekly lineup switches or the waiver wire, but they’re both weekly and the latter is impossible to benefit from if you’re a team that is performing well.
Another negative aspect of the downside of football is that I can’t care about my team on a daily basis. Aside from Monday and Thursday nights, when there are a maximum of two games. Sunday is the lone day with reliable team action. During baseball or basketball season, there’s rarely a night where no player on the team is taking the field/court.
My final complaint is the fraction of players that can be used on your roster. I have 16 players on my football roster, but I can only play nine during a week’s scoring period. That means that many of the players I roster will never be useful to me and are mere injury-insurance policies. Given the nature of the NFL, I understand that there’s no way to fix this, but this is a non-issue in the other two sports. In baseball and basketball, you can choose who suits up every day. The movement in baseball comes from the varying pitching rotations of who is starting. In basketball, it’s unusual that more than 10 of the rostered 13 play on any given night, helping the player maximize their whole roster.
This also leads to another issue, which involves the number of data points weekly. Football has nine data points per week since that’s how many players can suit up. That leads to whacky team scores, as any group of nine players can perform radically better or worse than their typical production. Think about the worst team in your fantasy football league having backup RB De’Von Achane last week. He was projected for 7.3 points after opening the season with 1.9 points but ended up exploding with 51.3 against a flailing Broncos defense.
With nine data points, that’s enough to take your team to a different level for that week. For a sport like basketball that sees around six or seven players per day, there are regularly 40+ data points, creating a regression to the mean. With so many games, the score is much more likely to represent the true quality of your team.
So, while I still play fantasy football, it doesn’t quite satisfy my fantasy sports needs. As I sit watching my team play on NFL Redzone, I know I’m internally counting the days until the start of fantasy basketball season.