Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wildest Fantasy

This football season, the wife and I have been introduced to the all-consuming obsession that is fantasy football.

For those who are unfamiliar with this nifty little pastime, here is a quick explanation. Each member of a fantasy league is the "owner" of a fantasy professional football team comprised of actual professional football players. Prior to the opening game of the real NFL season, league owners assemble (in person or, more commonly, via the interwebs) for a draft, wherein teams are assembled as owners take turns selecting players to fill out their rosters. As the real-life players compete on the gridiron, their fantasy counterparts score or lose points accordingly. Quarterbacks, for instance, earn points for total passing yards and touchdown passes but lose points for interceptions or lost fumbles. Every week, your team goes head-to-head with another in the league, and the winner is the owner with the most accumulated points on his roster. Throughout the season, adjustments can be made: benching players (you don’t want to be the idiot who plays an injured athlete or a guy on his bye week), making trades, etc.

I dove headlong into this venture, joining two Fantasy Football leagues in this inaugural year of my participation. In keeping with the central theme of my life’s work for the past six years, my teams are the Hartford and New Haven Wild Yeast. The wife, a bit more prudent in her fantasy expenditure, is coaching just one team: The New Castle Gangstas. Her mascot is a hooded sweatshirt—which is about as gangsta as the little lady gets. Other teams in our leagues include the Angry Muffins, Community Organizers, Fighting Boobies, and Casey Hampton Fit Club. Additional teams have family-blog-inappropriate monikers.

Allegedly, smacktalk abounds in fantasy football, with an online "smackboard" provided for each game. We have been terribly disappointed by the dearth of smack. We do our best to egg on our opponents (insulting their players, their mothers, their players' mothers, their mothers' players, etc.), but none have taken the bait.

We now watch football in a new way. No longer do we simply cheer for teams to win or lose for the simplistic reason of liking or disliking them or for the impact that their performances will have on the standings of our beloved Steelers. Now, we switch from game to game, cheering members of our own squads while wishing fumbles and interceptions and missed field goals on our opponents’ athletes. Each week, we scour the statistics and make our best predictions for who will be the highest point getters based on past performance, conditions in which they thrive (or not), who their opponents are, etc. and make trades and select starters accordingly. We read columns by dedicated professional fantasy football analysts, track each player’s projected point total throughout the week, and monitor our adversaries' lineup changes, logging in to the league pages several times per day. So addictive is fantasy football, I have not yet found time to assemble my McDonald’s Monopoly game pieces or enter the winning codes online (no worries—I'm confident that I’ve won—my winnings will be waiting for me whenever I get to them).

Fantasy stats and potential roster adjustments are always on my mind. Last night, the wife was describing to our friends an educational research study she would like to perform for her PhD dissertation. Part of the proposed investigation involved tracking individual students’ academic performance by monitoring the grades of each pupil over time. As she described her plans, I interrupted her; my new idea was of much greater import than whatever research-statistical-significance-improving-education-and-bettering-mankind mumbo jumbo she was spouting, so I blurted out, "We should have a fantasy student league! We could pick students and get points for their grades and stuff!"

The moment passed— only minor interest was generated by my proposition, but I believe my idea is truly innovative. Last night's friendly get-together might not have been the appropriate venue in which to expand upon my scheme, so I will elaborate upon it here. At the beginning of a school year, members of a fantasy student league ("fantasy teachers") would draft a classroom. To make educated decisions, fantasy teachers would have access to dossiers on each potential pupil with information such as: past academic achievements and failures, grade-point-averages, athletic accomplishments and embarrassments, birth order, religion (you wouldn't want to draft all Jewish pupils, for instance, as you'd have an empty fantasy classroom on Rosh Hashanah and a dreadful score for the week!), attendance records, classroom participation statistics, medical charts (you'll want a fully vaccinated classroom roster), relationship history, and job data (you might not want to draft a student who's working 20 hours a week at The Gap).

Each week, your classroom will compete with another assembled from students in the same school or district and you will earn or lose points as appropriate to your students' performances. Below is a proposed scoring schedule for students in such a league:

Performances on Quizzes and Tests:
Grade of D or F: -3 points
Grade of C: 0 points
Grade of B: +1 point
Grade of A: +2 points
Grade of A+ or 100%: +3 points

Homework completion:
No assignments turned in complete and on time: -3 points
All assignments turned in complete and on time: +3 points

Classroom participation:
Every 3 questions or comments: +1 point
No questions or comments for the week: -2 points

Participation in a fight:
Wins the fight (and is not caught): +3 points
Loses the fight: -3 points
No decision (or caught fighting): 0 points

Consequences of Bad Behavior:
Missing Recess: -1 point
Detention: -3 points
In-school suspension: -5 points

Awards and Recognition:
Make the honor roll: +4 points
Student of the Week: +3 points
Earn a pizza through Book-It: +3 points
Win a spelling bee: +2 points
Win a game of Around-The-World: +1 point

Extracurricular Activities:
Weekly participation in recognized extracurricular activity: +1 point
Being a member of a winning athletic team: +1 point
Being a member of a losing athletic team: -1 point
Winning in a solo sport: +2 points
Losing in a solo sport: -2 points

In a relationship: +1 point
It's complicated: -1 point
Dumping: +4 points
Being dumped: -4 points

It would be prudent to disallow participation of "fantasy teachers" in districts in which their children attend school. 'Twould be a real shame to have a parent sabotaging their child's in-class performance to gain a competitive advantage over an opponent who has that student on his or her roster.

Depending on how successful the Fantasy Student League becomes, we can roll out an entire lineup of Reality-based Fantasy competitions. I've got a few in mind already, admittedly inspired by my own life experiences. In the Fantasy Science League, for example, participants would act as virtual funding agencies, drafting a lab of professors, post-docs (such as myself), graduate students, technicians, and undergrads. Points would be distributed for successful experiments that yield novel findings, authorship on papers in peer-reviewed journals, book chapters, and pretty western blots; points would be deducted for broken equipment, scientific fraud or misconduct, poor mentoring of younger scientists, and being scooped by competing labs.

Following naturally from Fantasy Student League is Fantasy Higher Education. In Fantasy Higher Ed, players earn points for academic achievement in proportion to the average amount of years it takes for an individual to make such achievements (4 points for bachelor's degree, 2 for a master's degree, 5 for a PhD, 3 for a JD, 1 for an LLM, 1 for each year of postdoctoral fellowship training, etc.). In contrast to most fantasy games, this fantastical competition, of course, would take much longer than a single year, as players would be tracked for the duration of their academic pursuits.

Perhaps the ultimate in Reality Fantasy contests is Fantasy Life, in which fantasy players ("gods") draft a team of real-life people as their own mock creations. Points are earned for life successes such as getting promotions, finding love, making babies, or purchasing hot tubs and detracted for missteps like going bankrupt, committing felonies, or traffic violations.

What Reality Fantasy competition would you like to see and how would points be allocated? Leave your ideas in the comments section!