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Fantasy sports teams allow fans to dream big

November 30, 2006

The word “fantasy” usually relates to dreams and wild ideas, often referring to something beyond the grasp of the average person. But in the world of sports, fantasy becomes reality.

Fantasy sports leagues have swept the nation. With the prevalence of the Internet, a 13-year-old boy is as likely to become a champion at the end of a pro-football season as an 80-year-old former NFL head coach.

Fantasy sports allow participants to draft real professional athletes to create their own pro team. They then acquire points based on their players’ statistical performances on the actual courts or fields.

Depending on the sport and type of league, the winner can be based on the total points earned at the end of the entire season, or on wins and losses of head-to-head matches between two participants’ teams within each league.

Leagues can be created by anyone willing to take the time to do so, and can have as few or as many participants as desired. Most leagues have 10 to 12 members, meaning there are that many teams playing along.

UW-River Falls offers a version of fantasy football for students interested in getting involved who don’t have a lot of time to commit. The league offered by the Recreation staff is a “pick ‘em” league, where students pick the winners of weekend games.

UWRF’s league is offered through Yahoo! Fantasy Sports.

Recreational Leadership Coordinator Kurran Sagan created the league through Yahoo! and allowed students to register throughout the first week of the pro-football season. Each week, students sign into Yahoo! and pick who they believe will win.

The Web site keeps track of points, which people gain by making the right picks. At the end of the season, the student with the most points is the champion and will receive an Intramural sports T-shirt.

“It would be too difficult to have students actually draft a team like most people do with fantasy football because it takes too long,” Sagan said. “The system I have allows people to be competitive and get something out of watching the games and paying attention to the NFL. It’s fun with low commitment.”

There are many magazines and Web sites dedicated to fantasy sports teams. The type of leagues, along with the assortment of sports, varies from site to site. The most popular Web sites are Yahoo! Fantasy Sports, ESPN Fantasy Sports and FantasySports.com.

The popularity of the site closely relates to what the Web site offers subscribers. Yahoo! offers free membership, as well as an organized system that can help any user keep track of one team or many.

When people opt to participate in fantasy sports, there are decisions to be made throughout the entire season. Football, basketball, soccer, hockey, golf, auto racing, and even poker have people keeping track of games and tournaments on a daily and weekly basis.

Right now, fantasy football is the No. 1 sport to get involved with. However, choosing a sport is not the biggest part of playing along. A person can simply choose the winning team for a single game each week, or they can go through a lengthy draft process before the NFL season beings and choose who plays and who is benched each week.

Senior Jason Darst is in a fantasy football league with 12 members.

“I play because it creates excitement for a lot more of the NFL games because you are attached to certain players or teams so it makes it a more personal and involved experience,” Darst said. “Basically it just makes more of the games fun to watch instead of not being as entertained until the Vikings play.”

Senior Jake Halls is also part of a fantasy football team in which each of the 10 members paid a $20 fee. The money will be divided amongst the winners at the end of the season.

This is Halls’ first year taking part in fantasy sports, and he said he chose to do it because friends and coworkers were also involved.

“I though I would make some money,” Halls said. “But I’m not winning as much as I’d like.”

Fantasy sports has gone from being a simple form of recreation to a business for some. It was founded in 1962 by members of the Raiders’ coaching staff on a road trip to the east coast. After throwing around ideas and formulating a plan, they created the first fantasy football league called the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League.

It wasn’t until after the invention of the Internet that fantasy sports evolved. With the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) dedicated to market research, networking and communication, the industry has never been more popular, according to the Fantasy Sports Association’s Web site.

The number of people who take part in fantasy teams grows every year, with 15 to 18 million consumers now playing along.

“I think fantasy football is great,” Darst said. “I’m leading my division.”

Students are no longer allowed to sign up for the league offered by UWRF, but outside leagues can form for any sport. Coming up, bowl games for college football and the NFL Super Bowl will draw fantasy sports lovers, and baseball is expected to be the dominant fantasy sports league in the spring.

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