A Good Bet: Whats Up with Fantasy Football? Something Fishy, our Columnist Speculates

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pdDoes and Don’ts


By Paul J. Doe, Former Editor, Cumberland News


A Columnist for the Grapevine Newspaper


Has professional football “jumped the shark?” In case you’re not familiar with the phrase, it refers to the episode of Happy Days where Fonzie jumps his motorcycle over a shark tank.
The episode was the beginning of the end of the popular TV series because it was the show that took them from silly to stupid.
Since then, it’s been used to mark those seminal moments when things change so radically for the worse that there is no chance for recovery.
Well, professional football has been on a roll for the last 50 years, but I wonder if “Deflategate” and the sudden surge in fantasy football aren’t the harbingers of big changes in how and why we watch the game.
Deflategate was the year long, courtroom drama over cheating (deflating footballs for their team to provide their quarterback an advantage) by the World Champion New England Patriots.
After a months-long investigation, the football commissioner determined that the Patriots had, indeed, cheated and awarded punishment. The Patriots’ quarterback fought the commissioner’s decision in court and won a stay of execution on the punishment (a five-game suspension).
In other words, cheating is okay if you have good lawyers. But the worst part is the growth of the fantasy football craze. If you watch TV for any length of time, you’re guaranteed of two things—you’ll see an ad for toenail fungus medication and you’ll see an ad for one of the sports betting sites.
Fantasy football has become, in the last couple of years, bigger than the game itself. Guys I used to talk football with no longer root for “their team;” now they root for their fantasy draft picks.
We’re a nation of 300 million people and, according to recent surveys, about a fourth (75 million people) play some form of fantasy football each week.
It’s become a multi-billion dollar industry and when there’s that much money involved, there’s way too much chance of something fishy going on (and I don’t mean just in the shark tank).
For instance, for the first week of this season, my cable provider gave its subscribers free access to every single professional football game to try and sell their total game package. It was the first weekend so most of the games began at 1 p.m. I was all set in my new La-Z-Boy recliner.
I’d laid in a supply of my favorite snacks and drinks; my wife was busy doing something away from home and I’d settled in for an estimated 11 straight hours of football.
There were eight or nine games beginning at 1 p.m. I was determined to watch every single one of them and—with the aid of my trusty clicker—I wouldn’t have to move anything but my eyeballs and my finger.
At the first timeout of my primary game, I switched to my second choice and found it also in a timeout. So I tried my third choice: Timeout. Fourth: Timeout. Fifth: Timeout. It wasn’t until I hit the sixth game that I actually saw a game in progress.
Now, I’ll admit I’m a clicker fanatic (it drives my wife crazy but it’s the only real control I have in the whole house) and I’ve encountered the commercials-at-the-same-time phenomena many, many times watching regular network shows.
That (and the volume increase during those aforementioned commercials) are two of my biggest pet peeves.
But these are games. Most timeouts aren’t called by the games’ participants (each team is allowed six per game) but rather by the games’ officials who get told by games’ sponsors when to stop the action to sell some product (very often these days fantasy football betting sites).
I thought it kind of an odd coincidence and—like most cops, doctors and journalists—I just don’t like coincidences. So I switched to a baseball channel and, sure enough, a game was in progress. I switched to a movie channel and, sure enough, a movie was in progress. I experimented throughout the rest of the day and only once did I go from a timeout to a game in progress.
Now, I’m not saying that there’s anything suspicious going on but one of the things you hear the experts say all the time is that “if you control the tempo you control the game.”
Remember, we’re talking billions of dollars at stake every single week. In fact, I read just last week that an employee of one of the two big fantasy betting sites with inside information access won thousands of dollars from the other big fantasy site.
Sounds like the sharks are smelling blood.
Paul Doe can be reached via e-mail at paul@grapevinenewspaper.com.