Tuesday, October 6, 2015


I was a fantasy football addict.

I was.  I was in eight leagues at times, while writing analysis for pennies on the dollar, if that, while podcasting about the next great waiver wire pickup and telling you who to sit on your bench.  That was then.

I was a fantasy football addict: writer, analyst, podcaster et al.

Over time, the realization that fantasy football was less a game of skill then it was a game of fastest fingers happened almost overnight.  First, I can't tell you how beneficial it was to live on the east coast when the waiver wire come alive.  People would just get there first and boom, any chance at picking up someone was gone most times.

But this was further evidenced when I was asked to put together the internal RotoExperts Fantasy Football League.  The draft would be covered by one of our younger guys and would, of course, give insight to our fan base of just what picks were coveted and what ones were tremendous gaffes.

As Commissioner, the responsibility was mine to set the rules.  Immediately, I knew what rule I would implement: limited waiver wire pickups.  Why?  Because what does a draft matter if you can have your entire lineup replaced over and over.  Since we weren't an auction league (the best kind of league if you ask me) this was going to be my brainchild.  The league owners would still be allowed three pickups per week with an overall maximum of like forty-five for the year. Now we'd see whose research was really solid; who really knew how to draft for value, right?

Wrong.  I was immediately slammed by Ben Ice, the founder of the site, for placing rules that weren't in the spirit of the game. Of course, Ben didn't much care for any kind of editing, particularly copy.  So I wasn't too surprised, but his wasn't the only voice of dissent. Others chimed in and if memory serves, we settled on five pickups per week and something like eighty for the year (16 X 5).  Needless to say, my experiment failed.

Nowadays, who could envision such limitations on your team(s)?  We're just four weeks into the season, and the list of injuries is mind-boggling.  This doesn't even take into account the players that went down in the pre-season:

Kelvin Benjamin - torn ACL (IR)
Jorday Nelson - torn ACL (IR)
Julius Thomas - fractured hand
Matt Elam - torn bicep (IR)
Kevin White - stress fracture - Week 8 return possible
Michael Floyd - dislocated fingers - returned
Phil Loadholdt - torn Achilles (IR)
Shaun Suisham - torn ACL (IR)
Terrell Suggs - torn Achilles (IR)

Then we get into the regular season:

Dez Bryant - broken foot
Tony Romo- broken collarbone
Marshawn Lynch - hamstring and calf problems, his backup Fred Jackson now has an ankle issue
Arian Foster - torn groin - expected back Thursday
Drew Brees - shoulder issue
Andrew Luck - shoulder issue
Devin Hester - toe (IR)
Jordan Reed - (another) concussion
Rashad Greene- thumb (IR)
Joique Bell - ankle
LeSean McCoy - hamstring - no timetable
Luke Kuechly - concussion
Ben Roethlisberger - knee - out 4-6 weeks
Does Mychal Rivera even know where he is?
Ryan Clady - knee (IR)
Josh McCown - concussion - returned

These are just the names that are pretty recognizable to most football fans, and most are important to fantasy rosters.  For those that drafted many of the names above, their season is in flux or on the verge of being lost.  Yet Jonathan Stewart is actually healthy -- go figure!

In essence, the draft this year for most was costly or a ritual at best, and the days of your draft really figuring in to your outcome is the same as your bank roll increasing at a craps table.  Survive the season with minimal injuries, you win.  Lose two of your top draft picks like Dez Bryant or Jordy Nelson -- see ya.

This is just a reflection of the greater problem at large, that of football itself.  The sport I once idolized and played pretty well has become nearly unrecognizable.  The speed at which 300-plus pound men track down their speedier 210-pound counterparts is dizzying.  The collisions can be felt through the television set.  I once saw New Orleans Defensive End Will Smith track down Quarterback Michael Vick from behind.  That was the exact moment I got worried about the future of the NFL.
Bennet Omalu discovered what he dubbed CTE,
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

Recently, Yahoo! published an article that claimed of all the brains examined by doctors of former NFL players, ninety-six percent of them tested positive for CTE.  That's not a typo.  Ninety-six percent (96%).  That's an astounding number and not in a good way.  The movie Concussion is set to debut Christmas Day, the story of Bennett Omalu's discovery of brain deterioration that pertains to repeated head traumas, and the subsequent quashing of such information by the NFL.

The NFL may be thriving now as America's sport, but its days are numbered.  With players such as Brett Favre, Jermichael Finley and Troy Aikman stating outright they won't let their own children participate in the sport that gave them such financial freedom and status; with the early retirements of greats like Patrick Willis and his cohort Chris Borland; with  the number of stars going down to season-ending injuries every year, one has to wonder how long the NFL will maintain the throne over other sports.

There are a few ways the NFL could save itself.  They've started by almost removing the kickoff return from the game entirely.  Almost every NFL kicker booting a ball from the thirty-five yard line can easily send the ball out of the end zone if they desire.

But a few other things that would move the NFL into safer territory would be to take a tip from the arena leagues:

-  Shorten the field.  If the field were only eighty yards long and twenty yards wide, the amount of speed any one player could attain would be dramatically lessened.  Thus, the impacts could be toned down quite a bit.

-  Impose a weight limit on the players.  Anyone weighing more than 280 pounds should not be allowed on the field.

 - Engage a study on impacts and the differences weight and speed plays in actual traumas to the body.  We already know the toll on the head and neck is extensive, and the pain many players suffer post career remains until their dying day.  However, based on the increasing speed and weight, one can assume that those pains, even with better treatment and technology, will be much worse now and for future generations if nothing is done.

- Shorten the quarters back to the good ole days of college football to twelve minutes.

Of course, there will still be a lot of non-contact, season-ending injuries like ACL and Achilles Tendon tears, but that can also be assisted by removing non-grass surfaces altogether.  

I still love the sport of American Football.  When played by the best it is a beautiful thing to watch.  But it's impossible for me to sit and watch the catastrophic hits that dislocate and separate appendages and muscles from bones. They are no longer pleasant to watch as they once were.

I was a football addict.  Now, it's more like I'm a casual fan.  And in ten to fifteen years, I'd be surprised if it's anything more than a casual observer of what becomes a poor man's game of survival for those born into severe inequality of opportunity.