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When Fantasy Fails

Matt C. White

I’M A LIFELONG football fan who’s played fantasy football for 20 years. What do I have to show for it? Zero league titles, a staunch ambivalence about fantasy football—and three investing maxims.

Every fantasy football season starts with the draft. Three intoxicating forces combine to make the draft a great time: predictions, customization and pride. I’ve come to realize that the draft accounts for about 90% of the appeal of the whole fantasy football concept.

One year my friend scheduled our league draft for the same night I had already planned a birthday dinner for my wife. Backed into a corner, I had to do the unthinkable. No, I didn’t cancel the birthday dinner. I wouldn’t dare. Instead, I let the computer auto-draft my team. That was the best team I’ve ever had.

It was a humbling experience that taught me I’m really not smarter than everyone else at forecasting. We all have access to the same data—the same stats explaining prior year performance and the same commentary telling us what to expect next.

Is this starting to feel familiar?

When your players come through, you feel like an unstoppable genius. That taste of success catalyzes a craving for more. But who can know that their first-round draft pick will tear his ACL in week one? Or when the perennial superstar quarterback will finally regress due to age? Or when the blue-chip rookie wide receiver’s skills won’t be good enough for football’s highest level?

If the NFL’s general managers and coaches struggle to foresee these things—with all their resources and intensity—it shouldn’t be a surprise that I do, too.

Investing maxim No. 1: Picking stocks is tricky.

A fantasy football team’s roster includes at least one player at every offensive position and a bench of backup options. This puts the team manager in a tenuous spot every week: Who should start and who should sit?

All the data you could ever need to make a brilliant move is at your disposal. Here’s how my choices sound inside my head:

  • “Ooh, that running back on my bench plays against the NFL’s worst rushing defense this week. Start him.”
  • “Yes, that typically inconsistent wide receiver plays against a defensive secondary he scorched earlier in the year. Start him.”
  • “Hmm, the weather forecast says my usual starting quarterback will have to play in a monsoon. Sit him.”

But reality is much more colorful than this linear logic. The variety of unpredictable twists and turns is limited only by the imagination:

  • My running back scored no touchdowns because every scoring play happened from the one-yard line. They gave the ball to the goal-line specialist instead.
  • This game, the passing defense overcompensated to double cover my wide receiver, preventing him from touching the ball the entire game.
  • It turns out that my quarterback had an uncanny talent for throwing a football in a downpour. He had a career-best day, but I left him on the bench.

It’s hard enough to choose which players will have the best stats for the season. It’s even harder to know in which weeks they will produce those stats. I find that I outsmart myself every time I try to make a slick move. Which, of course, is also true when investing.

Investing maxim No. 2: Timing the market is futile.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It’s a little-known fact that Charles Dickens was playing the 19th century predecessor of fantasy football when he penned those lines. He must have been—because those words encapsulate the fantasy footballer’s gameday experience.

Fantasy football has ruined my enjoyment of regular old football. When my team’s players gain yards and score touchdowns, I’m thrilled. When they don’t, I’m frustrated. When I try to watch a game, I don’t even see it—because the stats ticker hypnotizes me. And if my players’ stats don’t scroll across the bottom of the screen, I constantly check their stats on the league app for my next hit of dopamine.

When I’m not wasting time trying to figure out where the stock market is headed, I’m a much happier person. Ditto for fantasy football. When I’m not fretting over my team, it frees me to enjoy the game itself—a worthy pursuit in healthy doses. More important, it clears up space in my consciousness for life’s richest possibilities. Like being present for a conversation with my wife, creative play outside with my kids, a visit with the neighbors or immersion in a good book.

Investing maxim No. 3: Ignoring daily market fluctuations is liberating.

After successfully avoiding fantasy football last season, I again joined a league this year at the request of some friends at the office. It’s been great—and awful. If I could have drafted a fantasy football index team, I would have.

Matt Christopher White is a CPA and CFP® who writes about money and apprenticeship to Jesus. You can get his book “How to Love Money: Four Paradoxes that Breathe Life Into Your Finances” at MattChristopherWhite.com. Follow Matt on Twitter @WriteMattWhite.

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John Yeigh
John Yeigh
8 months ago

You obviously never got to draft Brady.

Matt Christopher White
Matt Christopher White
8 months ago
Reply to  John Yeigh

I know I had him at least one of those years but even Brady’s magic football powers aren’t enough

Brent Wilson
Brent Wilson
8 months ago

As a long-time fantasy player, I really appreciate the analogy!

Matt Christopher White
Matt Christopher White
8 months ago
Reply to  Brent Wilson

I’m glad you can relate, Brent!

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