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Michigan State Students Join The Millions Playing Fantasy Football

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EAST LANSING, Mich. - Imagine there is a sport with as many participants as the population of Spain – 47 million – and yet, no spectators will ever see it happening or have the players physically exert themselves.

Fantasy football, the largest form of fantasy sports in the world, is a significant player in the amateur and professional gambling worlds.

The concept of fantasy football is simple: leagues are formed, with about 8-14 players in each group. Players often pay a buy-in fee - which can range from nominal to high-stakes in the thousands – to draft a team of NFL players for each position.

The NFL players earn weekly points for their performance, according to a set formula. The better that they do, the more points awarded to the fantasy player’s total. The fantasy team that produces the most points wins and takes the pot of money. Some leagues do weekly cash prizes, others wait to accumulate to a big prize at the end.

The fantasy game is everywhere, with its influence reaching into Michigan State. Michigan State student Cade Lawitzke runs a league, with other students involved.

Lawitzke’s league has a buy-in of $100 per team, and he has 11 of his close friends from high school involved. Play is structured so that every week, the team with the highest points accumulated gets a payout. Money is a big deal in their league, and everyone gets a chance to make some back every week. 

The members of the league believe the money aspect plays a big part into their devotion. Bryan Ziolkowski, member of Lawitzke’s league, believes the buy-in is important.

“The buy-in definitely makes the league more competitive, something to play for that’s more than bragging rights, also, you don’t want to waste a hundred bucks,” said Ziolkowski.

Fantasy football has become part of sports pop culture in America. There are fictional shows, such as “The League”, glorifying what it’s like to have a fantasy football league.

It also has become a business within the multi-billion dollar business of the NFL. People have careers covering fantasy football, such as analysts, writers, and scouts. Information, analysis and opinions are available every day to help pick the perfect winning line-up.

But no amount of outside help can overcome a bad draft order.

Leagues constantly change each season’s draft order, which is a critical process to determine a team. The draft determines how the players choose their NFL rosters – which can ensure success or failure.

“Every year the winner of the league picks what decides our draft order,” said Lawitzke. “So far, we’ve had card games to decide the order, we’ve had random order right at the start of the draft. Everyone got a horse at the Kentucky Derby this year to decide our pick order.”

The Kentucky Derby plan sounded like a winner, until the race turned into a controversial and confusing ending. League member Jacob Fox had the horse Maximum Security as his draft proxy.

Fantasy Sports
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“At first, I was thrilled because I thought my horse had won,” said Fox. “I was watching at a restaurant without volume, so I didn’t know what was going on. Once I realized that he got disqualified, I was upset because I knew that I’d be getting a bad pick, which is scary because of the league punishments. Now that I think about it, my whole season was ruined because of the Kentucky Derby.”

Lawitzke’s league rewards the winners – and punishes the losers.

“Our first-ever punishment was our Twitter header, then we had all neon outfits that the loser had to wear to high school. We then had customized shirts that said, ‘I lost the league’,” Lawitzke said. “We started picking up on the punishments recently, last year was a level 10 spray tan.”

He said this year’s punishment isn’t set, but likely will again be cringe-inducing.

A real part of a fantasy game.

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