Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Appreciating f.u.n. and fun - Learning how to Re-Appreciate Fantasy Football

If you are a regular follower of this blog (aka someone who sees my posts in their facebook feed and feels obligated to click on the link out of guilt), you may have noticed the absence of posts lately.  Sorry, real life and work intervened and made me change my priorities.  Ironically, changing priorities is what this post is all about (good thing some type of real life, relevant analogy happened in the past month and a half, I was running out of ideas pre-NFL season to write about).  But I had to get a post in before the start of the season, so here goes!

As mentioned in the title, this post is also about the band f.u.n. (not to be confused with Fun, some other band that threatened to sue f.u.n. if they didn't change their name/add three too many periods to their name).  Like probably a good million or more people, I originally liked the song "We are Young," only to grow to hate it when one day it was being played on three radio stations simultaneously on my way to work.  Then, the song "Some Nights" came out, and I completely hated it.  I felt like someone let three dudes loose in a recording studio with a case of Four Loco and said "Hey you three, go loco" (would have been way funnier if they had four people in the band).  I didn't get it, it was all over the place to me.

My wife, having much savvier musical taste than I, immediately dismissed me as being both anti-f.u.n., as well as anti-fun in general (for not liking a fun song by f.u.n.).  She, like most normal people, actually listens to the words of songs, and could appreciate the song for its lyrics, but also for other reasons.  I, as a drummer, tend to not listen to the lyrics at all, because I usually had ear plugs in when I played with my old band and couldn't really hear the lyrics anyways.  I listen for rhythms and the bass line, then imagine how I would drum to the song (which has made any attempt to 'sing' the lyrics to any new song I hear impossible, to the chagrin of my family, who can't seem to understand what I'm singing when I say - 'Boom, ba chow, ba ba boo chow pop,' you know, that song). 

So anyhow, I had an epiphany one day.  I was driving home from work, didn't have any grading to do, it was a beautiful sunny day, and "Some Nights" came on.  The combination of low-stress and beautiful weather put me in a good mood, and made me feel less obligated to change the station so nobody would somehow discover I had the song on for longer than three seconds.  And somehow, it just clicked.  I found myself wanting to hear the song more and more often (which wasn't really that hard), and I liked it more each time.  Particularly, I kept dwelling on the oft-repeated line "What do I stand for?"  And of course, I thought of fantasy football.

As a fantasy football player (and now blogger), what did I stand for?  Was I mainly interested in making a bunch of predictions on my blog and then saying "HA, told you so!" when they came true (or deleting the blog and pretending it never happened when things went wrong).  Was I only interested in winning for the sake of money?  Bragging rights?  Proving myself more savvy at being a fake GM than my friends/family? 

Well, I came to realize that what made me ditch fantasy football in the first place was over-stressing over trying to win it all.  This whole blog was made under the pretense of both finding ways fantasy related to my life as a parent, but also about making your team and fantasy-life as stress/regretability-free as possible.  How does one balance their over-competitiveness in regards to sports intellect with their desire to have less stress in their life?

The key is to create a league in which the cost/benefit ratio is in your favor.  Everyone likes money, and wants to win as much as possible.  However, having a huge buy-in always makes things more intense and stressful.  It can lead to the demise of friendships or even make family parties that much more uncomfortable.  If you do want to have a larger buy-in, I enjoy having the pay-outs be more balanced.  If you do just a winner take all (or 1st and 2nd, or 1st, 2nd and 3rd take all), your odds of actually winning are not good, no matter how 'good' you are at fantasy.  Luck always plays a role, as do injuries, which are completely unpredictable.

Leagues I have been a part of, including ones I have created, may have smaller payouts, but they pay in multiple ways.  For instance, I always like to award the team with the highest total points  by giving them their money back.  Sometimes, but not always, you have that team who happens to put up tons of points but always plays against teams that happen to have their best day of the season when they play that team.  This helps avoid that annoyance.  Also, if you have divisions, paying division winners (or even just the regular season 1st and/or 2nd place winners) rewards those who have put in the effort to succeed over the course of an entire season. 

Also, something I have considered doing, and may do this year, is akin to the concept of a "Beer Frame" in bowling leagues.  If you are unfamiliar, in the Beer Frame, the person on your team who rolls the worst frame has to buy beer for the rest of the team.  Simple, fun, effective.  Why not make, let's say Week 5, your "Beer Week" in which the team with the lowest point total must buy a case of beer for the team with the highest point total that week?  (Beer may be replaced with any type of reward/incentive since not all enjoy beer, nor are old enough to drink it).  Additionally, I have even given out an award/money to the team who beat a team by the highest amount of points at any point in the season.  Lastly, many leagues have a 'Toilet Bowl' playoff, in which the teams left out of the playoffs have a chance to compete for the Master of Mediocrity (so long as you don't allow these teams to be able to pick up free agents and trade, thus affecting the teams in the actual playoffs).  Or, you can just make the true Toilet Bowl winner the team that sucks the most and actually loses the Toilet Bowl playoffs.  Their prize can be either first pick next year, or perhaps something awesome, such as an expired gift card or a wallet sized photo of your picture for the current school year's yearbook (sorry, teacher specific prize, but think of how fortunate you could be if you do a fantasy league with a teacher!).

 Luckily, I have great friends and family who have created leagues that provide these type of incentives.  I thought I would outline some of the perks of these leagues that differ from those above, and demonstrate ways to make sure that the stress of fantasy doesn't overshadow the fun of fantasy football (or 'funtasy football,' my new terrible term that I hope to copyright).

League 1 - League with my friend's neighborhood buddies, of which I am not a member, but have won the league and their money, so I think they actually don't like me, but it would be cool if I lived in the neighborhood, they all seem nice.

So, this league is ideal for parents, because everyone in the league is a parent.  Thus, you get the occasional bad line-up decision or over-reaction to dropping/adding players due to "real-life" getting in the way of "fake-life", which can play to your advantage.  From a less devious perspective, everyone in this league has other real-life things going on, so although there is money involved, nobody is overly serious.  This is the league where a guy drafted an entire team of Johnson's, so again, not too intense.  What do they do that is an added perk?  They charge $1 per transaction, which I did not like at first, but have since come to enjoy.  All of this money goes into a fund, and percentages of it get paid out to division winners and overall league winners.  It adds a different dimension to how often you add/drop players (which also makes the draft more strategic), but also, you have no idea how much potential bonus money you may win, so long as you win your division or the league.

League 2 - League with friends and acquaintances, higher stakes, more pressure, but involves keepers, multiple ways to make the playoffs, good payouts, and a sweet, sweet trophy!

This is a league I won two years ago, retired, and then re-joined this year (and now have a way better team, thanks guys!).  The commish of this league has payouts for regular season champ, as well 1st-3rd of playoffs, but third place actually wins more than their money back, which is nice.  Additionally, there are four divisions, and each division winner advances to the playoffs (granted, their seeding may be adjusted if they won a weak division, but regardless, you're in the playoffs).  Also, 6 teams make the playoffs, with the top two teams earning byes.  Thus, if you can win your division or at least do better than half the league (12 teams), you have a very good chance of winning more than your money back.

But the real reason this league (the New World Order Fantasy League) is worth the price of admission, the sweet championship belt!

This belt fits nicely and makes for a great dance partner (for more details on that story, you must talk to me in person).

Leagues 3 and 4 - Leagues with family members and old college friends where the main reason the league exists is to hilariously trash talk each other at family parties/emails/facebook posts/other means of communication.

I take all of my leagues seriously, but these tend to be more good-humored, less financially-driven, and thus, I find myself taking more risks.  It never fails, much like when I fill out NCAA brackets, the more relaxed and less data-driven/over-thought I make my picks, the better I do (kinda runs counter-intuitive to the last 7 posts of mine).  Taking more risks in these types of leagues, and succeeding, helps me to do so in the more intense leagues, which often yields good results all around.  But again, as explained above, the trash-talking in these leagues is outrageous and hilarious.  Teams become more interested in who has the better team slogan than who they have in their lineup.  Drafting with my family the other night made me truly appreciate why I love fantasy football in the first place. 

Although the draft was online, it was slightly in-person because my wife and I were together in one location, three friends were in another, and several other family members were together at their homes.  So we found ourselves cracking up over and over, and were able to collectively watch the James Franco roast on Comedy Central and comment on not only fantasy football, but also the unfortunate career arc of Bill Hader (left SNL for phone commercials?  Really?  Stefon would be most disappointed). 

My favorite part of this draft came at about Round 10, when the selection of the incomparable Bryce Brown triggered a robo-message that read as follows:  "Congratulations!  You have just selected a Snickers Super Sleeper!  Please enjoy your fantasy drafting experience, brought to you by Snickers."  (or something like that).  The rest of the draft then became a challenge to find the next Snickers Super Sleeper (which apparently was every team's third string running back, as Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Hillman were the only others we could discover).  Nothing like corporate sponsorship to bring a family together (this past sentence brought to you by Subway, which I just ate for dinner).

League 4 was similar in nature to League 3, albeit no corporate sponsorship (come on ESPN, get with it).  It was nice to catch up with old friends, talk trash and enjoy each others' company for an hour (actually 55 minutes, a personal record for a fantasy draft).

So as the season begins tomorrow (don't forget, set your line-ups and pick-em choices!), it was nice to have a refreshing reminder of what the best part of fantasy football is: giving you an excuse to buy the NFL Sunday Ticket.  Well, I actually don't have the Sunday Ticket, so the other thing that is nice about fantasy football is that it's a hobby you can partake in with the people you love and care about the most, no matter how busy life gets or no matter how far apart you now live from one another.  As any parent can attest, finding the time to stay in touch and actually see your friends can be challenging.  Fantasy football is an outlet for doing both; not only do you stay in touch online, you most likely will try to arrange to watch a game together at some point during the season. 

As my wife demonstrated to me months ago, sometimes you just have to take a step back and appreciate a song or a hobby for what it really stands for... fun.