My league’s fantasy football season is chugging along. I like fantasy football. I find it fun to play. Our league is just for fun but a lot of fantasy football is really betting in disguise i.e. people only play for money. The winner of a money league gets half the pot that everybody pays into at the beginning of the year and the rest is divided up amongst the second and third place teams. Or else there are web sites and such that sponsor really big prizes. But I’m not a gambler. Gambling doesn’t interest me so our league has no money involved in it. And, anyway, if life has taught me one thing it’s that there is no such thing as free money.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people who say they like fantasy football really just like gambling. I think that’s true of football in general. Football is a big betting sport. Gamblers love to bet on it. I think of former Stern show member Artie Lange when I want to illustrate the football/betting point. Artie was a big New York Giants fan and a gambler. But most of his memories of the games, that he spoke of, involved bets he made. And when he gave up gambling he didn’t watch football much anymore. He also talked of betting on whatever random football game to, “Make it more interesting”. That’s a phrase I’ve heard, and read, gamblers use all the time. Football fans don’t need a bet to make football more interesting. As a matter of fact I find a bet quite distracting.

I’ve made small bets before, a football pool here and there, and it only served to annoy me during the game. It takes me out of the moment. It’s like going to a movie and not really paying attention to the story but just waiting to see if key things happen. Like if you had the over in the over/under number of explosions in the movie. All you would care about is when the next explosion was coming. The movie itself would mean nothing to you. That’s what I think football means to a lot of gamblers to claim to like football. Nothing. They remember plays and games on which they won or lost bets but not the ebbs and flows of the game itself. They find joy in the highs and lows of winning and losing their bets but not in the game itself.

What this all has to do with my fantasy football league is our playoff structure and the bye week. We have ten teams in the league. Six of those teams make the playoffs. Of those six teams the top two teams get a bye during the first round of the playoffs. That means they don’t have to play in the first round and in the second round take on the winning teams of the first round. That’s a typical ten team fantasy football playoff structure.

So coming in first or second place is a big deal. It saves you having to win a playoff game. Everyone would rather get the bye than not because we’re all competitive and that’s a competitive advantage. So here is the strange thing: It’s also a little bit of a disappointment to get the bye because you don’t get to play fantasy football for that week. Who wants a week off when you’re playing for the sheer fun of playing?

Think about it. In my league we’re all playing fantasy football not because we’re gamblers and want to win money but because of the joy of the game. It’s fun. It’s fun to keep track of the players, see what they do on the field, and try to figure out who will do well so you can get them on your team. I like it because I get to pay even more attention to football than I normally would. I wouldn’t have the faintest idea who a lot of players in the NFL were without fantasy football. But now I have fun following even the obscure ones. And then if I do well all year and get a bye I get to not play for a week. What? That doesn’t sound like a reward.

I think I’ve gotten the bye two out of the last three years and this year I might or I might not. It actually didn’t help me competitively the two years I got it as I lost my first playoff game. The year I didn’t get it I won two playoff games. So nothing is for sure. Except that both years I had the bye I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to play fantasy football for that weekend. I set my lineup and watched what my team did but it didn’t matter. I had to wait a week to play. What fun is waiting?