Fantasy Land: Exploring Tam’s Fantasy Sports

By Anthony Mazzini and Peter Wynn

footballcashwebAt some point in the next few weeks, junior Jake Newell will make his way around school with no shoes on, instead sporting a thick layer of saran wrap to protect his feet. This may seem strange, but it’s Newell’s punishment for finishing last in his fantasy baseball league last season. His team, dubbed “Oh Shoot,” ended the season with a 6-15 record. The winning player received the league’s pool of money, which is generated through a $20 fee collected from each participant; the two last place finishers are forced to comply with an embarrassing punishment devised by the league champion.
Harmless jokes aside, there is a much more serious incentive behind fantasy sports.
“I probably spend over $200 on fantasy sports annually,” senior Kiefer Dickson said. “Sometimes I regret paying because the money [could be] put towards a much more important cause. [Then again], winning the money is one of the most satisfying and exciting feelings in the world.”
The rush of betting and the potential to win money is one of the main draws for Tam to fantasy sports, games in which actual statistics from players on professional sports teams to decide a competition between imaginary teams put together by the fantasy player.
“Participating in fantasy sports without betting money would not be nearly as fun because then we wouldn’t be gambling,” senior Alex Finci said. “Putting money on the line makes the leagues way more competitive. Nobody would care about the leagues if not for the money.”
Sophomore Pablo Lochman, however, is a year-round fantasy sports player who considers the money he bets on fantasy sports an admission price to be in the league. Lochman expressed no concern about the amount of money he is betting on his teams or the amount he may win in the end. “I want to put money on these events because in the long term it isn’t lot of money. For example, if I put in $10 for fantasy baseball, the season lasts six months and only $10 isn’t a lot,” Lochman said. “I do it so I can have fun.”
draftsheetwebFinci and Lochman’s views represent the two ends of the spectrum of motivations behind fantasy football participation. With the popularity of fantasy sports increasing at a rapid pace, and the ability to constantly access statistics and rosters on smartphones, students at Tam have become more invested in fantasy sports. The investment of a core group of students has led the rest of the student body to wonder what exactly the craze is all about. What exactly has hooked so many Tam students, especially males, on the activity and what keeps them so invested in their leagues? And does betting money within fantasy sports constitute gambling in the traditional sense?
According to the Wall Street Journal, a sports writer named Daniel Okrent created the fantasy-like game seen today back in the 1980s. Later that decade, fantasy sports became more widespread, with dedicated participants keeping track of their teams by using newspaper box scores that gridded and categorized results of games. By the early 2000s, fantasy sports became an industry worth billions. According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FTSA), the governing body of hundreds of fantasy sports sites, 22 percent of adult males with Internet access play fantasy sports. In 2013, the FTSA estimated that 33.5 million people aged 12 and over in the United States and Canada were involved in fantasy sports, and the numbers continue to increase.
As the popularity of fantasy sports has reached an all-time high and students are able to play on more digital platforms than ever before, fantasy sports have grown in many ways. Students can manage their teams from computers and phones whenever and wherever they wish to. As with many websites, age limitations are loose. Fans of any age can play on main sites such as ESPN, Fox and Yahoo, with no verification of age. At Tam, some of the school’s youngest students are placing bets on fantasy sports each season.
Sophomore Cole Boscoe started playing fantasy sports last year, beginning with basketball, and a bet of $5. “I usually put money into the sport so it interests me more to check it and I get something other than bragging rights for winning,” Boscoe said.
As the number of people who wager money on their fantasy sports continues to increase, California State Law remains that “betting real money or anything of value on the outcomes of sports events is not legal.” However, the restrictions are inapplicable to the Internet. According to the New York Times, fantasy sites are protected under a federal law exempting fantasy sports from restrictions on online gambling. Nonetheless, Robert Bowman, the Chief Executive of Major League Baseball Advanced Media, told the New York Times in 2011, “[Fantasy sports] becomes akin to a flip of the coin, which is the definition of gambling.”
Some students at Tam agree with Bowman that fantasy sports constitute gambling.
“There is no doubt in my mind that playing fantasy sports and betting on games [breeds] gambling addictions because [since] you don’t lose a lot of money it’s possible you’ll bet more and more because you don’t see it as a risk,” senior Bennett Gates said.
Regardless of their opinions on gambling, many Tam students consider winning money the most important part of the fantasy sports experience. While there are a few high rollers who will bet large sums of money, most are willing to put in just enough to maximize their potential jackpot money. According to Forbes Magazine, the fantasy sports betting industry has an economic impact of roughly $4 billion annually. The fantasy sports industry has grown 12 percent annually since 2007. According to Tam students, wagers can range from $5 on the smaller side to over $100.
When winning money is no longer an attainable goal, few students have the desire to keep playing. “I can remember starting my [fantasy football] season 0-5. I had no answers for a turnaround season,” Dickson said. “No matter how much effort I put into reorganizing my team, it seemed like there was too small of a chance to win a game. I no longer wanted to spend my Sundays watching my players.”
For a lucky few, fantasy sports isn’t always a financial loss. “I spend about $80 each year and I usually win about one league [per] year, so I am one of the lucky ones that actually makes money,” Gates said.
On the other end of the spectrum, many students feel the social aspects of fantasy sports is often more appealing than the money. Fantasy leagues can take up a lot of time, bringing fantasy participants closer together than ever. In addition, fantasy leagues tend to be composed of friends.
Finci expressed that just playing with close friends can be still be fun, win or lose. “My best experience was probably this year. We decided to not only bet $20, but had punishments for everyone who did not get first place. It made every match up competitive and it felt like no one was going to give up,” Finci said. “Even though I ended up getting last place and Jacob Swartz got to shave a plus sign into my head, it was really a fun year to play fantasy football.”
Even without punishments, the players within a league usually end up becoming very close.
“The draft is the [most fun] part, I think,” junior Kimo Karp said. “Everyone hangs out, and its really a great time because there is competition, but it’s friendly competition, usually. It makes the sports more interesting. It’s the athletes competing, but you’re also competing with your friends.”
As Karp said, fantasy sports generate a fair amount of friendly competition among players. However, there is fine line between friendly and unhealthy competition. Although it is supposed to be an enjoyable experience, tension between participants can make the experience aggravating.
“Seeing my cocky friends winning every week really [upsets] me,” senior Colin Galeste said. “For people like me, who are way too competitive, fantasy sports can make you hate somebody unnecessarily. Bragging rights and winning money are the two most important things to me. I could care less about how successful my friends are over the course of the season.”
In addition to causing unhealthy competition, fantasy sports pose a risk of addiction. Kimberly Young, a licensed psychologist and founder of the Center of Internet Addiction told the New York Times in November of 2012 that fantasy sports addiction is very similar to other Web-based addictions. According to Young, many online addictions come from a need to control an outcome.
“When I tell [fantasy sports participants] there’s an abstinence component, they tell me they’ll just cut back,” Young said. “But they can’t cut back. It’s an all-consuming activity for them, but many think they can [limit themselves]. It doesn’t work like that.”
Students at Tam often feel the strong need to check on their teams. “[Fantasy sports are] definitely a distraction [for me]. I check during school, while I’m doing homework… I probably get around 25 notifications about my team a week, maybe more,” Finci said.
Gates agreed with Finci that he often found himself distracted by his fantasy team. “During parts of the year I am in a league for basketball, baseball, and football,” Gates said. “For football, I will check on my team two to three times during [the school day and] on the weekend probably four to seven times throughout the day.”

While the interest in fantasy sports continues to grow and the true impact of fantasy sports remains unclear, the majority of participants interviewed said it is a worthwhile activity. “It’s an opportunity to greatly increase your knowledge of sports,” Finci said. “It’s a great way to build strong bonds and camaraderie within your friend group. I know that the experiences I’ve had with fantasy sports gambling, whether they were good or bad, will be unforgettable.”