Playing Not to Lose: (Avoiding) Fantasy Football Punishments

Nowadays, I typically only participate in activities where I know I either have–or can create–a distinct competitive advantage. Fantasy football is an exception. Matthew Berry leads the industry on speculating about something more unpredictable than quantum mechanics. How he finagled his oh-so vast fantasy “knowledge” into a career is beyond me, but it commands respect.

It is no secret that fantasy football diminishes fandom. While I will not go so far as to say that it compromises the integrity of the National Football League (take your pick of issues), succeeding in fantasy sports requires fans to put the competitive interests of their favorite teams on the back burner in favor of setting their lineup. For example, as a Chicago Bears fan, I find it difficult to draft players in the NFC North, as doing so puts me in a fandom conundrum for a considerable portion of the fantasy season.

Since I began ‘playing’ fantasy football seven years ago, the only player I have selected from the NFC North was Calvin Johnson. I have passed on a laundry list of receivers who torched the Bears secondary, not selected Adrian Peterson on numerous occasions, and avoided Aaron Rodgers like the plague out of spite. It should come as no surprise that I have never finished better than second, and finish middle-to-end of the pack more often than not. Am I making excuses for my poor managerial performance? Of course I am, there are valuable fantasy finds across the league, but this segues nicely into the crux of what I want to discuss, punishments for finishing last.

I may be too proud in saying this, but I have never technically finished last in a fantasy league. Last fantasy season was simultaneously my best and worst one to date, as I lost in the championship in one league, and won the battle for second-to-last in another. Though I had the worst regular season record in the latter league, I scratched and clawed my way to a ninth place (out of ten) finish. However, the league was composed of floor-mates from my freshman year, and the unlucky soul that I finished in front of had transferred to another school. So, since I was the proud owner of the worst regular season record and the tenth place finisher was hundreds of miles away, I was unofficially crowned the loser.

I feared for what would come next. Would I have to walk around with a ridiculous haircut? Would I have to endure the embarrassment of getting ‘Property of (Champion’s Name)’ tattooed on my backside? Would I be forced to pick a kicker and then a defense in the first two rounds of our next draft? My thoughts were racing as I imagined every worst-case scenario possible.

But alas, this story did not end tragically. Whether it was the fact that loser punishments were not even mentioned until Thanksgiving break–when I was well on my way to a disappointing season, the fact that I actually did not get last place (nbd, but kbd), or the general culture of procrastination around the league, I never had to pay the piper.  I did not go out of my way to avoid punishment, it just turned out that enough time had elapsed where nothing was agreed upon that I was given a free pass.

Much like the NFL Preseason–when geeks like Matthew Berry finally get to ogle over metrics that most people do not even know exist–, fantasy football simply does not make the needle move. Yes, I will pour way too many hours into hypothetical trades, how my order in the waiver wire will determine what defense I can pick up, and fourth, fifth, and sixth-guessing my lineup. However, I will do so in the hope that I my buddies will ultimately avoid “imagining Sam with 30 high schoolers in a classroom insanely hungover taking a long test”.

In real sports, you play to win the game. Unless you take fantasy sports far too seriously, you play not to lose. There is a discernible difference. Will you remember who won one of your three fantasy leagues in any given year a decade from now? Probably not, but you will remember having to place a grotesque traveling trophy on your mantle for a full year, being charged with the commissionership (a job nobody wants, let’s face it), doing the league champion’s laundry for a month, sleeping under a bridge, or amputating your pinky.

As someone faced with the prospect of experiencing the humiliation, I have given plenty of thought to last-place punishments. Someone in your league should as well.

photo credit: Broncos Faithful via photopin (license)



I'm not a pessimist, I'm an optometrist.

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