Why Aren’t You Playing Big Ten Fantasy Football?

You love college football, especially the Big Ten. You play or have played NFL fantasy football. And yet, for some reason, you don’t play Big Ten fantasy football. What gives?

This very website was born out of our Big Ten league, and we mean to evangelize, because conference-specific NCAA fantasy football is far and away the finest speculative fantasy experience available.

Here’s why it blows that brainless, ESPNified NFL shit out of the water:

Scouting: Compared to college football, the NFL is highly predictable, and consequently boring. No fewer than a million websites and magazines are dedicated to handicapping NFL fantasy, and some of the only people left on ESPN’s payroll exist solely to tell you who to start and sit. Any moron can get their hands on a pre-made list of prospects, ranked and ready to go. And there’s little doubt about who’s going to be starting at a given position for a given team. It’s all pre-packaged, commodified, over-marketed tripe, and even those who bother to show up for their drafts functionally select on autopilot.

letting computers think for you

With college fantasy football, you actually have to put the legwork in for pre-draft scouting, because Matthew Berry isn’t going to be there to hold your hand. Who’s going to be Purdue’s primary running back this season? Which Gophers QB will get the most snaps? Which Michigan wide receiver will be Wilton Speight’s favorite target?

No checkout aisle magazine or talking head will give you the answers to these questions; you have to read live practice reports yourself, discerning what’s hype and what’s good intel. It’s often exasperating, always riveting, and way more rewarding and educational than just clicking on ESPN or CBS’s next highest-rated prospect.

And best of all, Fantrax, the site/app we use for college fantasy football — and possibly the only one in existence — is barely functional. The prospect rankings are frequently wonky, with intel not updated from the end of spring practice, and great players buried in the high numbers. Positions are frequently misclassified, leading to topsy-turvy outcomes. Injured players aren’t removed by the computer, punishing lazy MF’ers who don’t show up to the draft. It’s as much stumbling block as crutch, a barebones operation worthy of the noblest resistance, for nothing better weeds out spies and pretenders.

Managing: Running a college fantasy team is a far more active and challenging experience. One reason is that the statistical performance of college players is more variable than that of pro players.

Take kickers. In the pros, they’re basically robots who never miss. But in college, you’ve got guys like Indiana’s Griffin Oakes. See a difference in these stats?

Oh, the maddening majesty of that wildly varying field goal completion percentage!

Another explanation for the high beta value of college fantasy is that players come out of nowhere in a way that’s extremely rare in the NFL. Underclassmen you’ve never heard of in August may end up being November’s studs. Take a true freshman Saquon Barkley two years ago. Only the biggest PSU fans knew who he was. He didn’t get drafted. And by season’s end, he was one of the best players in the league. That makes playing the waiver wire essential, especially early in the season as new stars emerge. Which is fun! You learn about who’s in the conference, and there’s nothing more rewarding than being the guy who predicts and snags the next breakout player.

Strategizing: The NFL has 32 teams, so in a fantasy league with 10-12 contestants, there’s more than enough starters to go around at every position. If your best RB or WR has a bye, there are plenty of other starters to fill in. Yawn.

Scarcity drives good competition. When you’re playing with the rosters of only 14 teams, there are only 14 starting QBs and defenses to go around. That forces you to make difficult choices, to prioritize and strategize in a way NFL fantasy never demands. It also forces you to scout and play backups in an effort to eke out all the points you can. If you really love football, and simulating the act of being a manager, that’s far more enjoyable and stimulating than having limitless options.

Some people advocate for NCAA fantasy football with a player pool consisting of the entire FBS, or all Power 5 teams. But that has the same problem. Plus, you probably don’t watch those Sun Belt and MAC receivers put up video game numbers every week, so what’s the point? When you play one conference, you become intimately involved in it and see shifts take place every week. Watching the Illinois-Iowa game and figuring out who’s emerging in real time is so much better (and more challenging) than just checking the box score of the Louisiana Tech game and seeing your QB put up 700 yards and 13 TDs.  And it’s certainly better than watching Illinois-Iowa without a dog in the race.

So, are you ready to wake up from the fugue state of your fantasy coma and play conference-specific fantasy football? There’s still time! Get a group together, start a league on Fantrax (the only site we know of that has it for free), narrow your player pool to your favorite conference, do your scouting, pull your hair out over Indiana’s running back clusterfuck, and get ready for the most volatile fantasy fun on the market.


Image via Susan Smith / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0