By Kaley McComas
Dylan Miller is hunched over his computer on a weekend night in the UTC library.
“I’m so stressed out,” the 20-year-old Millersaid. “Why is that?” I said, thinking he would go on to groan about the agony of midterm week. He didn’t, because at that moment, school work was the last thing on his mind. Dylan was stressing because he had only 13…12…11…10 seconds left to select his next pick for his fantasy draft.
It’s football time in Tennessee and that doesn’t just apply to the field. Men, and women for that matter, across the country are preparing to be permanently preoccupied with game results for the next couple of months.
Every year with the arrival of football season, fantasy frenzy follows. Fantasy leagues have infiltrated all realms of sports. Chris Lee, author of The Winner’s Guide to Drafting a Fantasy Football Team and 47-year-old father of two, has been in the same fantasy baseball league since he was in eighth grade. From the outside looking in, I was so curious to know what kept someone dedicated to an imaginary sports team for 34 years.
It turns out that I didn’t understand the appeal.
“My baseball league has become some of my best friends—my college roommate from Detroit, my two brothers, my best friend from Chattanooga.,” Lee says. “It has kind of become a thing where the baseball league I’m in have become some of my best friends in the world; [the league] centers our friend group.”
Lee does acknowledge he is an anomaly in his level of dedication.
“I’m on the fringe,” Lee says. “Most people haven’t played this seriously and certainly haven’t played this long.”
Lee falls in with the fantasy football madness, aswell. His buddies in his fantasy football league drive in for an in-person draft every year. “The competition is fun,” Lee says. “I play against some really good, competitive, smart people; some of these guys havegraduated from Vanderbilt. It started out for competition but became about the friendships.”
It’s the friendly competition that keeps the leagues living.
UTC Senior, Sam Wigger, commented fondly on his fantasy experience.
“[It’s] the competition, the shit-talk,” Wigger says. “It’s fun.”
I found that even with the level of commitment that many fantasy participants have to their league, they do not have the same commitment to the players that they have chosen for their team. This is not true of all fantasy competitors.
“I’m more of a pick my team and ride it out for the season,” 27-year-old Dillon Thornbury, a Chattanooga lawyer, says.
It seems to go 50-50 whether someone is a loyalist like Thornbury or switches out their players each week based on rankings and stats. Dillon’s brother, 22-year-old UTC graduate, Brady Thornbury, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. “I probably have the most acquisitions in our league—dropping players and picking up players. I am definitely a waiver guy,” Brady Thornbury said.
All this devotion and camaraderie begs this question: If someone is investing so much of their time into a fantasy league, does another aspect of their life suffer. At UTC’s library on a game day, groups of fraternity brothers are gathered around tables, not studying for their statistics class, but studying their players’ stats. Is the availability of fantasy football leagues to the collegiate community a hindrance to grades? How can one properly manage their time and such an all-consuming hobby? If these students are taking trips to the library solely to select their draft picks,when are they doing their homework?
UTC grad Ben Allen might have best described the level of commitment many feel to the league when asked if he thought fantasy interferes with his day-to-day obligations.
“Absolutely not,” Allen says. “It is one of my obligations.”
It’s intriguing to me that a world of fictioncan be so captivating. The other day, I was in the car with a friend who prefers to remain unnamed. It was a dreary Sunday afternoon. We were headed back to UTC’s campus after a lunch at Cracker Barrel—where he refused to order when our waitress was at the table and asked her to come back after 1:00 because he couldn’t miss his draft time—and the roads were slippery because it had just begun to drizzle. My friend Madison and I let out a shriek as the car started to veer off of the glazed interstate as he checked how his team was doing mid-drive. He could not bear to wait another 10 minutes for us to complete the drive and potentially miss something.
Money and competition is a factor, but is itreally worth all of the time spent, and attention drawn away from pursuits grounded in reality? For entry into a fantasy league, the common buy-in is about $20 per person. Say someone has a team with fifteen participants on it; the total pot to be won would be $300. As much money as $300 is, it is not a grand jackpot and $20 is not a huge loss suffered as a whole; proof again that this isn’t about the money.
It is about the spirit of the game, the fun time with friends, the rivalries and bonds made alike, and the overall competition.
“It’s about the thrill of it—the adrenaline,” Allen said about his team as he bantered back and forth with his roommate, Wigger, about their last week’s scores.
Fantasy is so much more than meets the eye. Does it draw away from school orwork? Maybe. Does it occupy the Sundays of the majority involved? Likely. And does it even pose as a distraction to driving? Yes, I can testify to this.
But does it bring friends closer together? Does it create a friendly atmosphere of competition? And does it promote fan involvement and support forthe sports it imitates? Yes, yes and yes. It is not a question of whether fantasy is bad, as much as it is anything done in excess versus in moderation in going to introduce negative qualities. Fantasy seems to consistently occupy the minds of many of its players, yet maybe that just makes it a success in regard to the origin of its intention.