Monday, October 08, 2007

Perverted fantasy

I'm not playing the fantasy football this year. After trying it last season, I discovered that it requires a commitment of time and energy that I just don't have, what with a baby to take care of and my self-employed status, which means I don't get paid if I'm not actually working (as opposed to a regular job, where you get paid for down time, assuming you have any).

Though I'm not a big fantasy-head, I understand the system pretty well -- well enough to realize that the TV networks that broadcast NFL games don't really have a grasp on how fantasy football works. The most obvious effect of the fantasy game on NFL telecasts is the "real-time" stats that clutter the screen after every play. In Sunday's Panthers-Saints game, we were given instant updates as second- and third-string Carolina quarterbacks David Carr and Matt Moore ground their way to 119 and 43 yards passing, respectively. Does anybody have David Carr on their fantasy team? Well, then, does anybody have Matt Moore on their fantasy team? Is it even possible to have Matt Moore on your fantasy team? Similarly, midway through every game, we often get some kind of "fantasy tracker," which compares the performance of the QBs. It's not a terrible idea, but it often leads to ludicrous visuals that assume that at this point anyone is starting Joey Harrington or Damon Huard or Tarvaris Jackson (or Kelly Holcomb).

According to people who frequent sports bars, however, the worst thing about these on-screen graphics is that they provide nonstop bitching fodder for the yammering fantasy hordes who are determined to pound every last ounce of spectator joy out of football by announcing after each play that they need Desmond Clark to just catch one more pass, or who scream in pathetic, impotent rage when a team runs one more play to get closer for a field goal, turning a 52-yard kick (worth 5 points in some leagues) into a 39-yarder (worth only 3), or who cheer when a player who breaks off a punt return for 90 yards gets tackled at the 1 yard line, because it means the running back on their team will now come in and get that last yard and the TD.

Indeed, one of the most legitimate criticisms of fantasy football is that it distorts fans' understanding of the real game. It tells people that the most important player on the field is the running back who scores a lot of touchdowns, as opposed to the other 10 guys who move the ball up and down the field. And it rewards quarterbacks on crummy teams who put up big numbers against prevent defenses in the fourth quarter, when they're down by four touchdowns. This is all true, but I tend to believe that people who allow fantasy football to shape their understanding of real football aren't real fans anyway.

The TV networks, though, take this criticism one step further by actually distorting fans' understanding of fantasy football. As Sunday's late games were getting underway, CBS gave over a corner of the screen to its "FANTASY UPDATE." Here's what we saw:

M. Schaub HOU29401
D. AndersonCLE28723
T. Brady NE 26530
G. FrerotteSTL26233
D. Brees NO 25202

So these, supposedly, were the best passers in fantasy football in Sunday's early games? Ranked by what? By passing yards, clearly. But as any fantasy-head can tell you (and will tell you, repeatedly), yardage is just part of the equation. The real money comes from maximizing touchdowns and minimizing interceptions. Under a typical fantasy scoring system -- 1 point for each 20 passing yards, 4 points per passing TD, -2 points per interception -- here's how these five quarterbacks actually performed:

M. Schaub 10.70
D. Anderson16.35
T. Brady 25.25
G. Frerotte19.10
D. Brees 8.60

So Matt Schaub, supposedly the best fantasy quarterback of the early games, was actually a middle-of-the-pack special. All those yards don't mean a thing if you can't get your team in the end zone (one point on which fantasy and real football are somewhat in agreement). Once we adjust for the fantasy effect of touchdowns and interceptions, here are the fantasy passing numbers for the primary quarterbacks in Week 5's early games. (For the sake of simplicity, we're only counting passing stats, not rushing stats or fumbles. Jon "Two-Lost-Fumbles" Kitna should be glad.)

T. Brady NE 25.25
J. Campbell WSH20.40
G. Frerotte STL19.10
D. Anderson CLE16.35
E. Manning NYG15.30
D. Garrard JAX14.90
B. Roethlisberger PIT14.30
K. Warner ARZ11.50
M. Schaub HOU10.70
C. Pennington NYJ9.45
D. Brees NO 8.60
D. Carr CAR7.95
D. Huard KC 7.80
C. Lemon MIA5.55
M. Hasselbeck SEA3.80
J. Harrington ATL2.35
V. Young TEN1.85
J. Kitna DET1.30

According to CBS's graphic, Matt Schaub was the best passer in the early games. And yet, if you'd started Tom Brady, Jason Campbell, Gus Frerotte, Derek Anderson, Eli Manning, David Garrard, Ben Roethlisberger or Kurt Warner, you'd have done better than Schaub. Five of those guys didn't even make the CBS chart, including Campbell, who had a better day than all except Brady (whom CBS listed third). Those players didn't make the CBS chart because they didn't have as many passing yards. Campbell, with 248 yards, was 4 yards shy of Brees and thus didn't make it, even though he threw 2 touchdowns and had no interceptions.

It comes down to this: If you're going to clog up my Sunday afternoon viewing with this attempt to pander to the fantasy crowd (most of whom are using the Web, not TV, to check their progress anyway), then get it right. If I -- someone who doesn't play fantasy football -- can tell at a glance that the fantasy information you're putting on the screen is bullshit, then what do you think a regular fantasy player is thinking?

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