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ISSUE 120 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 11/3/2006

Inside the Lines: Fantasy island

By Matt and Mark Everhart
Staff Writer

Friday, November 3, 2006

It’s an obsession which has consumed millions, spreads across all sports, and has become a cultural phenomenon. It’s present in commercials, on all major sports news outposts, even in major newspapers. We’re talking about fantasy sports.

The simple formula: draft players and get points based on their performance.

It has become an extremely popular cultural phenomenon with the advent of the Internet and the great amount of information that goes into a fantasy season. It’s about our information-obsessed culture.

Conclusion: reflection of our information-obsessed culture. So why not have fun with this overwhelming abundance of information?

Fantasy geeks focus on the numbers and statistics more than the game, or how the team is doing, or the intangibles. You think, “How many rebounds did K.G. have?”, but you don’'t care about if the Timberwolves were victorious.

Quick, name a cultural phenomenon that has swept the nation in the past decade. No, I’m not talking about Pokèmon. It’s something that has captured the attention of everyone from middle-aged men to high school dorks to professional athletes.

The phenomenon has become fully integrated into popular culture. USA Today runs features on top fantasy sports picks, cell phone commercials with top NFL players joke about their fantasy draft and has a separate section and an army of analysts fully devoted to fantasy sports.

For those of you who aren’'t familiar with how fantasy sports works, it’s not hard to understand. You and a group of friends (or strangers) create a league on one of the many fantasy sports websites on the Internet. Each person then drafts a team. Then it really starts: It’s basically a game to try to get more points than your opponents. Points are accumulated based on performance in several statistical categories.

It was the territory of uber-dorks and the hardest of hardcore sports fans until the popularization of the Internet. Imagine having to pour over boxscores of every game and keep track of every stat by hand! Even if the Interweb enabled casual fans to join, why did fantasy sports become so popular so quickly?

Other than the thrill of victory, rooting for your favorite players and bragging rights over all your friends, I think it’s modern culture’s obsession with information that lies at the core of fantasy sports’ popularity. Everyday, we’re exposed to more information than ever before through TV, cell phones and especially the Internet. Thanks to the web, we have almost anything we would ever want to know right at our fingertips. We religiously check our e-mail accounts for fantasy updates.

Which leads me to a criticism of our information-obsessed fantasy sports hobby: It’s easy to lose track of what’s really important in sports when all you’re looking at is numbers. Sure, it’s exciting that Kevin Garnett led the NBA in rebounds last year and was once again a fantasy stud, but the Timberwolves had a horrendous season. The focus on fantasy stats also overshadows players who provide priceless intangibles to the game, like offensive linemen making key blocks.

In the end, fantasy sports are above all fun. It’s just important to remember the competitive spirit and raw human emotion found in sports. Having said that, I see no reason why we shouldn’'t have a little bit of fun with our overwhelming abundance of information.

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