Sports

By Douglas Farmer 

“Are you into DraftKings or FanDuel?”

That question has displaced the known classics as the piece of de facto small talk for sports fans. Only 15 months ago, the comrade a stool down at the sports bar would ask, “How about the Cubs? They’ll collapse soon,” or “Who’s your basketball team? Oh, NBA? I can’t stand the NBA.”

Perhaps a bold inquisitor might set down his Miller Lite and pose the query, “What was tonight’s spread?”

Now, they skip the pleasantries, overlook the allegiances, ignore the barbershop rumors. They go straight for the daily fantasy sports musings.

“I love playing golf. For $3, I get four days of entertainment.”

“Football seems cool, but I don’t like staying up until 1:30 to see if I won 50 cents.”

“Baseball this summer was fun, though.”

That last patron is neither a Twins nor Brewers fan, no matter any gambling-adjacent success.

Looking beyond the debates on the legality of daily fantasy sports, ignoring the likelihood that most participants would be better off spending their dollars buying rounds for a bar of strangers, and setting aside the morality of sports gambling and industries insisting they are merely neighbors to that vice, not cousins—anyone playing daily fantasy football, baseball or golf is incorrectly embracing our country’s latest excusable pleasure.

If you insist on playing daily fantasy sports, do not buy the sales pitch of those incessant ads from a fall ago. They simply focused you on the sport we hate to love, football.

Do not play daily fantasy football. Play daily fantasy basketball.

More than any other sport, football rewards arbitrary results in fantasy performances. Whether a quarterback throws or runs for a touchdown can depend on his offensive line as much as his play. Granting the daily fantasy sports player two extra points is far from appropriate considering the offensive line’s failure to block a blitzer may trace back to the quarterback failing to diagnose that alignment before the snap. Nonetheless, the Miller Lite fan will pocket hundreds because that mistake broke his way.

With a regular season of only 16 games, football’s sample size prevents the law of averages from balancing out those two favorable points later in the season. When playing daily fantasy football, one relies on luck, chance and the ball’s bounce more than any skill.

Basketball, however, provides ample opportunity for its statistics to show consistency, accuracy and trends. In 82 games with nearly 100 possessions per team, basketball’s wealth of available numbers allows one to rely on research, knowledge and perhaps even skill.

Take the most-recent MVPs in the NFL and NBA, respectively. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton failed to reach two-thirds of his average DraftKings output in four of 16 games in 2015. Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, meanwhile, reached that threshold in all but five of 79 games played last regular season.

There is no free money to be had in these ventures, but which path leads to more likely success?

Douglas Farmer grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin, before covering sports across the country with stops at The Los Angeles Times, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Dallas Morning News. He graduated from Aquinas High School in 2008 and from the University of Notre Dame in 2012, and now spends his professional time keeping an eye on the latter’s football team.