Control. Most of us haven’t had much of it since the pandemic hit and we’re trying to find it where we can. For Joseph Trupia, that’s been in fantasy football. Surrounded by a world of uncertainty, Trupia can control his team and make decisions for it.
“Each weekend feels like they always have been since I was 12 or 13 years old,” says Trupia. On Sundays, I can sit down at 1 p.m. to watch football all the way through the end of the Sunday night. For those 11 or 12 hours, it does not feel like there is a pandemic out there, and life feels right again.”
This is Trupia’s 11th season playing fantasy football. For Trupia, a 2017 graduate of Verona High School, and his hometown friends, fantasy football began as something they learned about from watching their fathers play in leagues over the years, and now is a favorite pastime. This year, Trupia expanded to play in a second league with his friends from Saint Joseph’s University, where he is now a senior.
“I think more people will turn to fantasy football this year, says Trupia, who is doing an in-person co-op this semester with Origlio Beverage in Philadelphia. “We have been deprived of sports for so long that people want to get involved as much as they can. I am an example myself, since I joined another league when ordinarily I probably wouldn’t have.”
Centered around the National Football League (NFL), fantasy football captures a group of individuals who draft, or auction, their own distinctive football team, an amalgam of players from various NFL teams. Each week, contenders can experiment with their roster based on projected points of each player’s performance, with the goal to earn a higher amount of points than his or her opponent. As a fantasy football contender, one must gauge player breakout–when a player goes from good to great–or bust, when a player underperforms, as well as follow patterns in special teams, or defensive strategies.
Although each league may differ from the next, a fantasy football roster generally consists of 16 NFL players, including nine starters and seven bench spots, or players that will not play during a certain weekend. Throughout the 17-week NFL season, contenders face off against each opponent in their fantasy league. While rules may vary from league to league, fantasy football seasons generally close with the top half of contenders squaring off in the playoffs, top quarter in the semi-finals, and final two in the finals, with one champion reigning at the close of the season. Each season introduces unique scenarios in draft strategy, roster creation, as well as the main aspects of assessing analytics when it comes to evaluating and forecasting a fantasy team’s outcome.
According to The Washington Post, some 1.6 million teams were drafted for fantasy football leagues during the fall of 2019 over a two-day period. This year, one of the websites where fantasy fans gather, MyFantasyLeague.com, says revenue is down by nearly 25%.
With professional football play circumscribed by the pandemic and their ability to gather in-person at a sports bar limited, Verona residents are turning to fantasy football leagues. They believe that the way they are experiencing fantasy football now is different than any year prior and has both challenges and positive outcomes. As a result, they believe such changes eventually could lead to changes in the way fantasy and perhaps real football are played.
Verona resident Greg Deo plays in two fantasy football leagues, and is currently in his 20th season of playing. Similar to Trupia, Deo enjoys fantasy football each year as a way to keep in touch with childhood friends, and be part of the banter and competition that accompanies each season. While the number of contenders are the same in both of Deo’s fantasy leagues at the moment, he observes a rise in gambling and general interest in the e-sport, likely due to the pandemic.
New Jersey legalized betting on real sports teams and games during the summer of 2018. Deo thinks that may have also increased the number of people involved in fantasy football. “It made more people aware of the option of being involved and possibly winning money,” he says. “In addition, there is way more of a following behind fantasy football this year. Just in my two teams, friends outside of my circle are asking me about my fantasy team’s performance, as well as my strategies each weekend as I make changes. Some of my other friends say they may join fantasy leagues for the first time next year, and are using this year to learn the ins and outs of playing fantasy.”
Pandemic or not, not everyone is interested in joining a fantasy football league. Verona resident of six years Joseph Bubenas never played fantasy football, but enjoys football gambling in pools, which commonly occur in-person while watching football games with friends or at a bar. Pools involve betting on one team over another based on total points of touchdowns from a team, and do not involve any means of technology. Because of the pandemic, Bubenas says that his gambling may diminish this football season.
“I enjoy gambling when with friends, but this year will be very different,” he says. “I can call my friends and gamble that way, but I will not be able to enjoy the friendly competition face-to-face, so I may choose to enter pools less often. I prefer playing in pools because it just rolls on a weekend basis, there is no stress to manage my own fantasy team and have to constantly log on each weekend to make roster adjustments. Due to the generation I was born in, I never grew up playing fantasy football and would see the time and energy to learn how to play, and the ins and outs of the technology involved, as outweighing the positives of playing, especially during a pandemic.”
Deo, from Generation X, and Trupia, a Millennial, grew up with more exposure to technology, which influenced their participation in fantasy football. Bubenas says that he prefers to get news on sports from the newspaper or by watching ESPN, while Deo and Trupia use apps on their smartphones such as Draft Kings, ESPN Mobile, as well as word of mouth within their fantasy football leagues.
There are pros and cons to fantasy football this year, and these Verona residents believe that the way they are experiencing fantasy football now is different than any year prior. One of the major positives is the fact that fantasy football has always been a virtual sport, so there are no major changes to the setup of the game, or draft style.
But just like regular football, the pandemic has affected fantasy play, from the Injured Reserve/COVID list to drafts and more. “One of the leagues always drafted live at a bar but this year it was online,” says Deo. “While it was still fun since our league has a group chat that we were able to discuss live updates with during the live draft and talk smack, it wasn’t the same as being in person. Doing the draft outdoors isn’t an option since no one has WiFi extending through their backyards, so we really all felt the effects of the pandemic affecting our favorite sport.”
Both Deo’s fantasy league and Trupia’s have had to devise scenarios in case the NFL season gets cut short, and contemplate how they might name a fantasy champion. Most leagues are awarding the contender with the highest amount of points at the time the season ends as the winner, while others are putting seasons on-hold until the fall of 2021 to pick up with those points there they left off. Trupia’s league now holds up to three extra players on a single team’s roster, including backups for any position to give some legroom in the event that certain NFL teams have to temporarily resign during the season due to pandemic-related issues, most of which include spare running backs and wide receivers, the most utilized positions on a roster already.
And then there’s the fan factor. Out of the 32 NFL teams, only nine were offering fan seating at severely reduced capacity limits as of September 18. With not as many fans cheering on their teams, NFL team morale is expected to suffer, as a result, fans becoming less engrossed in the sport.
“Not only will fan and team spirit be downgraded this year, but I also think since all teams had shorter training camps and no pre-season game, the play on the field during actual games will be less sharp across the board,” Deo says. “Missed blocks from defense and special team units, miscommunication between quarterbacks and receivers, dropped balls and penalties have increased since week one, and I think they’ll continue to. The sport will be less entertaining to watch, and make managing a fantasy team that much more difficult.”