The number one sport in America is professional football.
The number two American pastime–per ratings and revenue–is college football.
This is a blowhard factoid that I heard uttered once on sports talk radio. It’s the kind of baseless notion that you wind up parroting like crazy whenever people talk about the NBA. I heard said factoid in a clunky and gas-guzzling 2001 Chevrolet Venture. It was a lunch break, in the Chick-Fil-A drive thru, and I was kind of angry at myself for indirectly supporting pray-the-gay-away initiatives and being too weak to resist a fried chicken breast with pickles. This moment kind of sticks because in the late summer of 2009 I’d just committed to ponying up $120 to join a collegiate fantasy football league through my office.
Quick word about this office. We do finance and trading and money stuff. We are really good at mutual funds that beat the Lipper average. One of the founding partners has a picture that he took alongside George W. and Laura Bush in his office. We are deep in the heart.
A leading recreational release for my colleagues is focused, heavily regulated fantasy leagues. I always wonder what professionals make the best fantasy players. In my experience, finance guys narrowly edge out extroverted law school types, and are second only to writers with drinking problems and customer service representatives that have smart phones.
Somewhere around the early aughts, these men got bored with standard-scoring NFL leagues and paid premiums to niche websites like Athlon Sports for a college version of their beloved game. Restrict the player pool to the six BCS conferences and the leading indies (Notre Dame, Navy, Army), rope in 12 total business associates and a rich dude’s wine bar–you have a league of charging bulls knee deep in Saturdays.
During the fall of ’09, my team upset one of the junior partners, made the playoffs, lost in the semi-finals. It was anchored by Russell Wilson, Eric Decker, Jahvid Best,[ref]Rest in peace.[/ref] and C.J. Spiller.
College football is beloved by any football fan that attended a school with a competitive football program. You follow the university, its foes, and its conference at-large. Then you make stupid, insular arguments about what alliance of schools has the best whole.[ref]Unless you are from the South, in which case you rightly puff your chest about the SEC.[/ref]
With college fantasy football, you’re invested in that otherwise insufferable 10:00 a.m. ESPN2 Michigan State game. Next thing you know it’s 1:23 a.m. and you’re nervously keeping tabs on the shootout between Washington State and UCLA.
You become a better-educated fan. You follow skill players to the pros and tout them to friends like a buzz band they probably haven’t heard of.
Athlon Sports eventually lost its ability to sustain its college fantasy football platform and folded that branch. But CBS Sports–where your long-time nerdy purists play NFL fantasy because the IT-guy-by-day likes the spreadsheet layout–now runs the game and its platform is stellar, user-friendly, overrun with good information. College Football Geek is sitting on a gold mine as soon as people realize that you can have the thrill of Sundays on Saturday and it’s a little more emotionally rewarding because lineups are more diverse.
Anyway, two takeaways: If you ever find yourself in a college league, ditch the SEC because of all the star power (people reach for what they know) and the defensive talent in charge of tackling said wattage; go all in on Pac-12 running backs because they go crazy (my first three picks–the starting tailbacks at Oregon, Washington, and Oregon State–De’Anthony Thomas, Bishop Sankey, Storm Woods, respectively); roll with a running QB1 (Taylor Martinez rushed for 1,000-plus yards last season, so I’m trotting out four running backs week-to-week); keep alma mater picks to sentimental deep cuts (I see you, David Ash); diversify (my receivers are contributors to the Big 12 aerial attacks at Baylor and TCU); and then stash some fun fact picks–Florida running back Kelvin Taylor is the son of former Gators and Jacksonville Jaguars stalwart Fred Taylor, and was the number one overall class of 2013 high school recruit.
Give it five years, and we’ll all be pulling extensive weekend fantasy shifts.