Let’s face it — as much fun as it is to watch football, having a stake in the outcome of a big game can add a level of excitement.
While the Supreme Court legalized sports betting in 2018, only 19 states plus the District of Columbia have rolled out systems for gambling on professional sports events. Alternatively, may sports aficionados turn to fantasy football as a popular way to hedge bets and win money among their friends, family, and co-workers. If you’re looking to play fantasy football, here are a few tips on how to get in on the action without losing out on all the fun or all your money.
Set a Budget
First, we recommend betting only small amounts of discretionary money that you can afford to lose. This is money that you would otherwise spend on a restaurant dinner or a night at a bar with friends. If you lose it, then you get home-cooked meals and Netflix, so it’s not the end of the world if luck isn’t in your favor.
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If you’re not comfortable betting money, or find yourself indulging in extreme budgeting, then come to an agreement with everyone else in your league about an alternative prize — perhaps the loser has to buy everyone pizza or make dinner. If you’re playing online, ESPN offers internet fantasy sports leagues that do not require a bet, so you’re still able to participate without gambling.
Once you decide how much you can comfortably bet, choose one of three ways to play fantasy football to best suit how much time you can commit to your league.
1. Super Bowl Squares
If you’re attending a party for the Big Game, or plan on hosting one, consider putting together a Football Squares game. You can find a template fairly easily on Pinterest.
The game works as follows — there are scores ending in 0 to 9 on two sides of a table, making for a grid with a total of 100 squares. Each side corresponds to one of the two teams. You are given squares that correspond with the last number of the score you think both teams will have at the end of each quarter. For example, if the score is Chiefs 14, Packers 7 at the end of Q1, you would win if you received the square that had the number 4 for the Patriots and the number 7 for the Rams.
You can do a $2 buy-in per square, thus creating a risk-reward dynamic wherein whoever has more squares has to spend more money, and your total pot will be $200. The winner of the correct score at the end of each quarter gets $40, plus $40 extra for the final score. There’s potential for the person with the right score at the end of each quarter to win the full $200, if they’re lucky. This allows even a casual viewer of the game to get in on the action, without spending too much cash.
2. Season-Long Fantasy Football
The most common way to play fantasy football is with a group of friends, coworkers, or even strangers over the course of a season-long competition.
You get the opportunity to build your own fantasy team using real NFL players. Rather than drafting all the key offensive players on the Rams or Patriots, you draft a mix of positions from each team.
For example, you can have a quarterback on the Steelers, receivers on the Browns and Dolphins, and a running back on the Titans. This can get highly competitive and fun, especially when you get together to draft the players either in person or online.
Besides winning money, a fantasy football season can bring people together.
If you and your college friends lead different lives in different cities, it’s hard to stay in touch without finding consistent common ground. Fantasy football can keep those relationships going long after graduation. If you play at your job, it’s also an immediate conversation starter with coworkers in other departments who you would normally only nod at when getting your morning coffee.
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How to Play Season-Long Fantasy Football
Typically with these season-long formats, all players buy into the pool that will be split among the top finishers at the end of the season. In college, my friends and I started our league at a $20 buy-in for 10 members. With just $200 in the original pot, first place took home $120, second banked $60, and third kept their original $20.
With our incomes increasing since then, our group’s buy-in is now $150 for 12 total people, with the winner taking home $1,000. This amount is something we determined we could part ways with while also justifying our investment in it by spending too much time evaluating our rosters and making weekly moves to gain a strategic advantage. It’s a way to feel like a general manager of a team.
As stated before, discuss among your league how much everyone is actually comfortable betting. If you play online with the use of the site such as FFPC or Apex Fantasy Leagues, exercise self-control and only join leagues with a buy-in you can afford.
Keep in mind that, if you’re serious about winning, a season-long fantasy football league can be time-intensive exercise as it lasts the entire season and often has rules that allow for trades and roster changes. To maximize your fantasy team’s performance, you’ll have to stay up-to-date on the NFL from September through January. If you’re a casual, single franchise fan, this may prove difficult, but if you live for the gridiron, then this might be your bag.
Daily Fantasy Football
Season-long leagues are tough, especially if your team succumbs to injuries. If your top running back goes down with an ACL injury, it’s going to be hard to overcome that loss and save your season.
Companies like Draft Kings and FanDuel offer apps so you can pick a customized daily team with an allotted budget. Players are assigned a dollar value, and you assemble your team based on a max budget. FanDuel will also give you a $5 bonus with your first fantasy deposit.
The buy-in for tournaments can range from $1 up to hundreds. If there is a tournament with a $5 buy-in and 100 participants, the total pot is $500. For instance, the top player in that one tournament could take home $250 off a $5 bet. While this is rare, it’s fun because you’re focused on the excitement of your players performing well for that one day, without a season-long commitment.
Nothing in Excess: How to Play Fantasy Football Responsibly
Betting money on football is a great way to have a stake in the games you’re watching. It makes it more exciting knowing that there is potential to win money. That said, you should always go in expecting to lose, and be mindful of whether you’re able to gamble responsibly.
Always bet with money that you can afford to part ways with; you’re not relying on ever seeing it again.
Engage in sports gambling only as a way to have fun and raise the stakes, and you’ll always get a return on your bet, one way or another. Have fun, keep your bet reasonable, and make sure you keep enough snacks on deck for the Big Game.