Motivated by both an incentive to “win” and the opportunity to gain business experience, students at Oklahoma Christian University play alongside an “estimated 59.3 million” people in the U.S. and Canada who currently participate in Fantasy Football.
Now a game popularized among college students and young adults, Wilfred Winkenbach, Bill Tunnell and Scotty Sterling, all employees for the Oakland Raiders, created the rules of Fantasy Football in March 1962.
In August 1963, the world’s first fantasy league, the GOPPPL (Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League) held its inaugural draft.
Yahoo became the first online source to offer a free fantasy football product in 1999. Then, in July 2014, DirecTV released a “Fantasy Zone” channel, which provides statistics, analysis and key player updates.
While, for Oklahoma Christian sophomore Warren Chapman, Fantasy Football represents a “bringing together of the brothers through a competition,” Washington Post columnist Eric Allen Hall said the betting and wagering focus of Fantasy Football negatively impacts the sport as an organization.
“Fans are more invested in the business side as well, winning and losing cash each week on legalized gambling,” Hall said. “Yet the byproduct of these financial and technological developments is to dehumanize the players and ultimately distance fans from athletes they once admired for their accomplishments on and off the field.”
While some Fantasy Football leagues include monetary bets and rewards, senior Brandon Kiefer said money makes it stressful and more positives can be derived from the leagues if money is omitted while playing.
“Fantasy football is the greatest,” Kiefer said. “It allows me to have so much fun with such a simple idea. I have only ever played for money once. I won, but I wouldn’t want to do it again. It’s too stressful.”
Chapman said he plays in the leagues to push himself out of his comfort zone in social interactions and because it provides him the opportunity to meet people through a common interest.
“I just started playing to build the relationships I had and make new ones,” Chapman said. “I’ve built a lot of relationships through it and hope to continue to do so. I don’t really think there are any negatives. I do just play for fun. With social interactions, it helps, because it’s something to talk about and find common interests with people.”
Despite the social positive, Hall said there can be negative repercussions to participating in Fantasy Football.
“Fantasy football and the real-life version encourage an illusory engagement with football in which we stare at the numbers and curse at players when their concussions cost us a fantasy title instead of worrying about their long-term health,” Hall said. “It makes us forget that the players are men whose lives extend beyond the field.”
However, Chapman and Kiefer both said playing Fantasy Football increases their love for the game and gives them a reason to be more invested in the lives of the players they draft.
Kiefer said he particularly enjoys participating in the leagues because it allows him a virtual, yet real life way to learn business tactics.
“The idea of owning my own team and getting to act like a real front office executive is the coolest part of playing fantasy football,” Kiefer said. “It also gives that idea of ‘what if’ I was a general manager, which is so cool.”
Kiefer said he is not deterred academically by playing Fantasy Football, but he warns against over involvement.
“I think it probably does take away from my academics sometimes, but I don’t think that it does so to my detriment,” Kiefer said. “I did, however, have a cousin who started failing math due to his intense commitment to Fantasy Football. I think it is a good thing socially, though. It gives me a shared experience with my friends, which is really cool.”
At the end of the day, Chapman said the league is about football and competition.
“I play for the right to say I’m a winner,” Chapman said.