Fantasy sports is an expansive hobby. What began as a handful of fantasy football owners following around the Oakland Raiders in 1963 is now a multi-billion dollar industry with variations on every sport known to man. I’m sure jai alai and bocce ball each have their own devoted fantasy leagues (and I hope to cover those sports one day).
This review of 2015 fantasy sports is likely to be incomplete, if you want coverage of every single sports. For our purposes here, I want to cover the major fantasy sports which appear on the DFS websites: fantasy football, baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, and MMA. I also mention college football (CFF) and college basketball (CFB) to some extent. I’m sure there are oversights, but this year-end review should give the highlights.
2015 Fantasy Sports Year in Review
2015 seemed to be a transitional year. After a few years with somewhat static stardom, new stars emerged in most of the major sports. Stephen Curry suddenly surpassed LeBron James. The Toronto Blue Jays were a fantasy juggernaut. Jordan Spieth dominated fantasy golf. In football, Aaron Rodgers looked mortal and Peyton Manning looked old. The times were changing. Meanwhile, the daily fantasy sports industry underwent a rise and fall the likes of which few analysts have seen.
January 2015 – College Football Playoff Dominates
Bowl season is a good time to play daily college football, for those who are still trying to figure out that niche of the DFS hobby. The January football schedule was a wild romp for everyone but Alabama Crimson Tide and Oregon Ducks fans in 2015.
After it seeming like the two were on a collision course for an inevitable showdown, the Ohio State Buckeyes upset both on their way to the first National Championship decided on the field — and not by voters. Forced to prove their superiority on the field instead of being saved by BCS voters, Alabama was unable to do so.
Ohio State wins first College Football Playoff – Led by third-string quarterback Cardale Jones and overlooked running back Ezekiel Elliot, Ohio State crushed Wisconsin to sneak into the first ever College Football Playoff, then upset Alabama and Oregon to capture the title. The Buckeyes dispatched the Ducks 42-20 in the championship game behind Jones’ 242 yards passing and Elliot’s 246 yards rushing to give coach Urban Meyer his third national title and first at Ohio State.
Deflategate – On January 18, 2015, it first surfaced that the NFL was looking into deflated footballs in the Colts-Patriots AFC Championship Game. On January 20, the NFL released information that they found all 11 balls underinflated (later proven false). On January 22, Bill Belichick denied knowledge of deflated footballs at a press conference. Tom Brady told reporters, “I would never do anything to break the rules.”
The NFL didn’t believe him, because on the next day, it appointed Ted Wells to investigate. On January 26, Robert Kraft denied any wrongdoing by his team. He also called for an apology by the NFL when Brady was exonerated.
February 2015 – Fantasy Hockey
Fantasy hockey is a good time to play DFS anytime from January to June, but I choose February to highlight the game, because it’s the coldest time of the year and one of those considered a lull in the sports year. February is the time when the NFL goes dead (after the Super Bowl), while baseball is still one month away from Spring Training. (Pitchers and catchers report in late-February.) Though the NBA and NHL are in midseason, that means they take a break for the better part of one week for their All-Star games. College football is dead to the world except for Signing Day. Of the six major sports on FanDuel, only college basketball is in full swing throughout the entire month.
Carey Price was the elite goaltender of the 2014-2015 NHL season, winning the Vezina Trophy as top netminder and the Hart Trophy as league MVP. rice also took the Ted Lindsay Award as most outstanding player as voted by the players and shared the William Jennings Trophy for the lowest team goals-against total.
In fantasy hockey, Carey Price was brilliant, too. Price led the NHL in wins (44), goals-against average (1.96) and save percentage (0.933) in the 2014-15 season. The native of Anahim Lake, B.C., became the first goalie to top all three categories since Ed Belfour in 1990-91. His success didn’t carry over into the playoffs as Montreal fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
As always, Alex Ovechkin was the best fantasy hockey skater, though his regular season point-scoring did not translate to postseason success…again.
March 2015 – Fantasy MMA
For those who played on DraftKings, some of the biggest news of March ’15 was UFC 185, which saw the #76 biggest upset in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. While that might not sound that impressive, it translates to one of the 3 or 4 biggest upsets of the year in mixed martial arts.
In this case, it was Rafael dos Anjos who defeated Anthony Pettis via a 5-round decision. Rafael dos Anjos came into the fight at 23-7, while the champion Anthony Pettis had a more impressive 18-2 record. Among the 155-lb Lightweight Division fighters, Pettis had an advantage in height, weight, and age.
March Madness got underway in mid-March, though the annual basketball apocalypse now overlaps into April these days. I would not recommend play in one-day fantasy college basketball contests during March Madness, unless you have followed the sport all season. It is the time of upsets and breakout performances, so only the truly lucky or truly wise are going to succeed.
In March 2015, that was mitigated by the fact John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats were smoking everybody. UK was a mystery for DFS gamers to solve, though, because they had a deep bench and were therefore hard to predict from night-to-night. The best key to use in Kentucky games was to avoid players playing against the Wildcats’ defense — their team defense was amazing.
April 2015 – Fantasy College Basketball and PGA Golf
Duke wins NCAA tournament – On April 6, behind a trio of freshman, Duke won its fifth championship in program history (all under coach Mike Krzyzewski). The Blue Devils defeat Wisconsin 68-63 in the title game.
Youngsters Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow carried the Blue Devils all season before declaring for the NBA Draft, and fellow-freshman Grayson Allen stepped up for 16 points off the bench against the Badgers. The championship moved Krzyzewski into sole possession of second place all-time, behind only John Wooden and his 10 titles.
UConn women win NCAA tournament – The next night, UConn wins another national title. For the third consecutive year and 10th time in 21 years, the Connecticut women, led by coach Geno Auriemma, won the NCAA title. Unlike last year’s squad, this Huskies iteration lost a game — just one, to Stanford in November — but UConn ended the season on a 35-game winning streak, which culminated in a 63-53 win over Notre Dame in the championship contest. For her performance during the season, forward Breanna Stewart was named AP Player of the Year, and she won her third straight Final Four Most Outstanding Player award as well. The Huskies have now reached 10 consecutive Final Fours, 15 of the last 16 and 20 of the last 22.
Some compare Geno Auriemma’s accomplishments to John Wooden’s 10 national titles. Many view that as heresy. One commonality between the two feats: it’s a sign that a sport has limited depth and competition when one team dominates so much.
From April 9 to April 12, Jordan Spieth signaled he was the next superstar of golf when he won the 2015 Masters at August National in impressive fashion. Jordan Spieth’s dominant Masters performance evoked memory of another 21-year-old American at Augusta. Spieth, like Tiger Woods in 1997, won handily, finishing 18-under, four shots ahead of runners-up Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose. Spieth became the second-youngest Masters winner ever, after Woods, and his score tied Woods for best ever at the Masters.
On April 29, the UFC lost its biggest star when it suspended Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones. The suspension came in response to Jon Jones’s hit-and-run driving incident in New Mexico. Jones, who is the brother of New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, met with UFC President Dana White and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta before the suspension. He was apologetic, saying through Twitter, “Got a lot of soul searching to do. Sorry to everyone I’ve let down.”
Dana White later said, “He’s very disappointed. He’s upset. He wanted to go down as one of the greats, or the greatest ever. He’s disappointed, but it is what it is. It was the decision we had to make.”
Luckily for Jon Jones, he was reinstated by the UFC on October 23, after he reached a plea agreement with New Mexico authorities. The UFC released a statement which said, “Following a review of the plea agreement reached by Jon Jones and officials in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the judge’s decision, UFC announced today the formal reinstatement of Jones to the UFC roster.”
May 2015 – NBA Playoffs, NFL Draft, and the Wells Report
Stephen Curry cemented his dominance of the NBA and fantasy basketball with his signature moment: the 2-month run through the 2015 NBA Playoffs.
Over a two-month period, Stephen Curry had his coming-out party as the NBA’s biggest star. Despite being the NBA MVP in the regular season, plenty of people still looked at the Golden State Warriors as an offensive juggernaut that would be exposed in the playoffs, like many other offensive juggernauts of the past. Instead, the Warriors proved deeper, more talented, and better than their opponents on every level. Stephen Curry was the centerpiece.
In the 1st Round, the Warriors eliminated Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans in 4 games. In the 2nd Round, the Warriors faced their toughest test, as the Memphis Grizzlies played a grinding defensive style. After being down 2-1, the Warriors rallied to win in 6. In Round 3, the Houston Rockets mouthed off prior to the series, as James Harden claimed he should have been the MVP. The Warriors made the Rockets look silly with a 5-game beatdown.
That left the NBA Finals, which pitted the Warriors against the elite of the East: LeBron James & His Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs were without their second- and third-best players, as Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were out for the year. LeBron James averaged nearly 40 points a game in giving the Cavaliers a chance to win, but as the series progressed, the combination of Stephen Curry, Andrew Iguodala, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green wore down the depleted Cavs. While some Eastern Conference fans would argue Cleveland could have won, if they weren’t injured, the Golden State Warriors deserved their world title. At the beginning of the 2015-2016 season, LeBron James even suggested Stephen Curry was the best basketball player in the world now.
NFL News Invades the Culture – On May 6, the Ted Wells Report is released in the Deflate-Gate Case. The report used some strange language, which implied certain things without actually saying anything. For instance, in accusing Tom Brady of knowledge of the deflated balls, the report said it was “more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls”.
On May 11, the NFL suspended Tom Brady for 4 games without pay. The league cited the Wells Report as its reason for the suspension.
On May 14, the Patriots release a statement challenging the Wells Report. After reading the report, the Patriots said, “The Report dismisses the scientific explanation for the natural loss of psi of the Patriots footballs by inexplicably rejecting the Referee’s recollection of what gauge he used in his pregame inspection….There is no evidence that Tom Brady preferred footballs that were lower than 12.5 psi and no evidence anyone even thought that he did. All the extensive evidence which contradicts how the texts are interpreted by the investigators is simply dismissed as ‘not plausible.’ Inconsistencies in logic and evidence are ignored.”
On May 19, Robert Kraft said he would not appeal the suspension. Tom Brady disagreed, so he began the appeals process on May 29. It was announced that an appeals hearing would be held on June 23, with an announcement sometime after that of the result of the appeal.
June 2015 – Fantasy Baseball
While fantasy baseball gets started in April every year, it has plenty of competition for attention from the NBA and NHL, because both those sports are entering their playoff season. Golf and NASCAR get a lot of coverage in the spring months. Even NFL fantasy football takes a week of coverage in early May, due to the NFL Draft and speculation about what all those draft picks mean.
In June, Major League Baseball takes center stage. By mid-month, the NBA and NHL have ended their seasons. The fantasy aspect has dwindled significantly, because most contests need multiple games to be interesting (or legal). The NFL is two months away from meaningful news (unless a scandal erupts). Fantasy baseball takes center stage.
Below is a list of the top 10 fantasy pitchers and top 10 fantasy baseball players of the 2015 season. By June 2015, these players had established themselves as the dominant players in the sport. Many other fine seasons were had by other field players/pitchers, but these were the best, under most fantasy baseball scoring systems.
The Best Fantasy Baseball Players of 2015
1. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, Center Fielder
2. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates, Center Fielder
3. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins, Right Fielder
4. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks, 1st Baseman
5. Carlos Gomez, Houston Astros, Center Fielder
6. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers, 1st Baseman
7. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays, Right Fielder
8. Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays, Designated Hitter
9. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox, 1st Baseman
10. Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners, 2nd Baseman
The Best Fantasy Baseball Pitchers of 2015
1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers, Starting Pitcher
2. Felix “King” Hernandez, Seattle Mariners, Starting Pitcher
3. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals, Starting Pitcher
4. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox, Starting Pitcher
5. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals, SP
6. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants, SP
7. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians, SP
8. David Price, Detroit Tigers/Toronto Blue Jays, SP
9. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds/Kansas City Royals, SP
10. Zach Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers, SP
Fantasy Football Suspension News – Meanwhile, the NFL continued to dominate certain news cycles. Over a 10-year span, I’ve become convinced these endless suspensions/scandals in the National Football League are a marketing strategy by Roger Goodell. Like most NFL fans, when Goodell first became NFL Commissioner, I supported his tough new stance on player infractions. Anytime an NFL player had trouble, Goodell was there to suspend him. Over time, I’ve realized those suspensions had little to do with justice and more to do with public relations — they were arbitrary and inconsistent, making sense only in the way they molded public perception of the league. It was only during the Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and Tom Brady cases that I realized how much of the PR had to do with Roger Goodell himself. There is a good article by Dan Le Batard about this idea, but I’ve written about it at length myself (and linked to Dan Le Batard in the article).
The contention is the suspensions are a narcissistic need for Goodell to be in every NFL story, along with a misguided attempt to keep the NFL in the news 365 days a year, mainly through scandal. Roger Goodell takes the P.T. Barnum approach that any press is good press. Unfortunately, Roger Goodell doesn’t realize that P.T. Barnum was only trying to get butts in the seats; the NFL is more interested in getting advertising dollars than filling up stadiums (though they want both). Thus, the constant controversy has eroded the public’s goodwill and the NFL’s image over time, hurting the league. What once was the Teflon League is now a league under siege. When the time comes that the concussion issue comes to a head and the NFL needs massive public goodwill and support, I don’t know if it will be there. Therefore, Roger Goodell could well be destroying the NFL through his need for constant conflict.
Whatever your opinion, in June 2015, Roger Goodell struck again.
On June 2, Roger Goodell said he would not recuse himself from the Tom Brady appeal. On June 23, Tom Brady appeared before Roger Goodell for a 10-hour question session. The sports media reported that Brady knocked the ball out of the park on the Q&A session. Reporters who saw the transcript later remarked that Goodell made a fool of himself.
On June 28, Roger Goodell announced that Tom Brady’s appeal had been rejected. The suspension still stood. To back his reasoning, Roger Goodell announced he had proof that Tom Brady had destroyed him cellphone to keep it from ending up in the hands of Ted Wells, presumably to keep incriminating texts from ending up in Wells’ hands. This ignored two facts. (1) Tom Brady was under no obligation to turn over his cellphone, and his lawyers had already told Ted Wells the phone would not be handed over. (2) Destroying a cellphone could not keep an investigator with a subpeona from seeing the text messages, as they are saved the cellular companies.
Fantasy Golf – Jordan Speith continued to dominate the 2015 fantasy golf scene. He won the U.S. Open by one stroke over Dustin Johnson. The win gave the 21-year old Jordan Speith both the PGA golf majors in the year. That is incredibly hard to do, because the Masters favors the long ball hitters who can master the greens, while the U.S. Open favors an entirely different type of golfer. The US Open makes certain their courses punish inaccurate drivers, average putters, and those with a bad short game. It is a test of willpower and discipline, with few chances to make up strokes like one might at the Masters. To win both tournaments is like proving you’re the best home run hitting team in baseball, then proving you’re the best at smallball. Or in football, it’s like showing you’re the fastest team on artificial turf, but also the grittiest grind-it-out team on an icy surface. It’s almost unheard-of.
July 2015 – The Time of Baseball and Golf
Major League Baseball continued to dominate the news. The Toronto Blue Jays were the talk of the baseball world, due to their overpowering offense. That made the Blue Jays the talk of the fantasy baseball world, too. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson led the attack. After the trade deadline, Troy Tulowitzki joined the assault. If you invested in any of those Blue Jays players in fantasy baseball drafts, you were gold.
Meanwhile, PGA Golf continued to be a big story, mainly due to the emergence of Jordan Speith. Zach Johnson won in a 3-man playoff over Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen after a 4-hole aggregate playoff. Johnson won the tournament at -15, which was particularly impressive, given the dismal weather conditions the tournament had. Going for his 3rd straight major, Jordan Speith finished 1 shot off the pace with a -14.
Daily Fantasy Sports Becomes Mainstream – One of the developing stories of fantasy sports in 2015 was the fact DraftKings and FanDuel were becoming mainstream. Their commercials were everywhere. They were talking to mainstream investors about the business, including the Disney Company. DFS sites were signing corporate sponsorship deals with sports leagues and franchises, avoiding the pitfalls of having those leagues’ animosity, unlike sports betting. Everything seemed to be pointing towards a growing industry, though each time a DraftKings or FanDuel ad aired, it was sowing another seed of the industry’s destruction.
One sign of the mainstream appeal of DFS was the inclusion of Yahoo Sports to the fold. Yahoo! launched its own daily fantasy sports site under the name “Yahoo Fantasy Sports Daily”. Yahoo is a longtime provider of fantasy sports league management services and FS news coverage, and had 5.6 million active fantasy owners on its website at the time it launched the service.
YFSD is a much different beast than FanDuel and DraftKings, the leaders in the industry. As the site with the #5 Alexa rank in the world, Yahoo saw no need for a bunch of television advertisements and affiliate marketing deals. Instead, it was Yahoo and it was secure it could convince its huge customer base to play DFS contests on their service, if anywhere. Unfortunately, events three months hence would rock the one-day fantasy sports industry — and render many of Yahoo’s July 2015 calculations invalid.
August 2015: Tom Brady’s Suspension is Overturned
The biggest story of August happened when a federal judge in New York City decided to overturn Roger Goodell’s suspension of Tom Brady. I’ve written at great length about the Deflate-Gate case. I’m not Patriots fan, but I still feel like Roger Goodell smeared Tom Brady and the Patriots organization in order to boost his own standing.
The plan backfired miserably. Losing the federal case made Roger Goodell look like a dolt, which might actually be the case. It was a testament to how devastating the defeat was that the PR-crazy Goodell declined to attend the NFL’s Thursday Night Opener, because Tom Brady would be playing in the game.
One of the biggest reasons the lift of the Tom Brady suspension was huge was he went in the 7th to 8th round in many fantasy redraft leagues, because most people assumed he would miss one-third of the regular season. That is a huge chunk of the season, so he slid whole rounds. I know one league that his suspension was lifted 2 days after the draft. Disgusting, but I am in that league’s final after taking Matt-Freaking-Ryan as my QB, so I won’t complain too much. (Kirk Cousins is starting in the final.)
It was a long and drawn-out process, though. On August 12, Tom Brady appears in court to appeal his case to a federal judge. Roger Goodell also appears. The judge in the case, Richard M. Berman, urges both sides to come to a settlement. He sets August 19 as the date for a further hearing. On August 19, he again urges both sides to settle. He then sets August 31 as the date he’ll ask probing questions. Brady and Goodell are required to be at that hearing. On August 31, it is noted that Judge Berman quizzed the NFL lawyers with hard questions, leading some to believe Berman is leaning in the direction of Tom Brady. He announces September 2 will be the day he renders a verdict.
Fantasy MMA – On August 13, Anderson Silva was banned from mixed martial arts by the Nevada Gaming Commission for testing positive for a banned substance. He tested positive after his January 31 fight against Nick Diaz, but the ban was announced in August 2015.
Daily Fantasy Sports News – In the daily fantasy sports industry, the DFS provider Victiv was purchased by PokerStars on August 13. Victiv was only a year old at the time of the purchase, but it had made headway towards being the 3rd-leading DFS site behind DraftKings and FanDuel. Victiv used an innovative gaming platform and contest rules to create its own unique niche.
PokerStars announced afterwards that it would rebrand Victiv by the name “StarsDraft”, which would cross-promote with the PokerStars brand. Given that PokerStars has 97 million players signed up worldwide, that represented a vast new player on the international daily fantasy sports scene. Unfortunately for Amaya Gaming, PokerStars, and Victiv, events two months later would render those plans inert. As of December 2015, Victiv/StarsDraft no longer accepts US players.
Fantasy Golf – Jason Day Wins PGA Championship – Jason Day won his first major by winning the PGA Championship from August 13 to August 16, 2015. After contending for the title early in the week, Jason Day had wilted at the U.S. Open two months before, finishing in 9th. Now, he finally showed he was a force on the PGA Tour.
Jordan Spieth continued his breakout year with a 2nd place finish at the PGA Championship, three strokes back of Jason Day. Spieth’s finish vaulted him to #1 in the PGA Tour Rankings, ahead of Rory McIlroy. It’s a testament to the new talent in pro golf these days that we only mention Tiger Woods in passing. By the end of 2015, Tiger Woods had become irrelevent once tournaments began, though he was still talked about in the press. Jordan Spieth was the story of 2015. Any fantasy golf owner who drafted him to their team likely won big.
September 2015: Fantasy Football Begins
September is a time when the National Football League dominates sports talk and especially fantasy sports talk. After months of speculation, teams finally take the field for real. In a few short games, the landscape of the NFL shifts…usually every single year. The same can be said of 2015.
Biggest Fantasy Football Flop: Andrew Luck
Biggest Fantasy Football Surprise: Devonta Freeman
Biggest Difference Maker: Antonio Freeman
Andrew Luck was the #1 player in most fantasy football leagues in 2014. While teams that drafted Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning in the high rounds might have done well, those teams which drafted Andrew Luck in the 4th or 5th round did tremendous.
Cut to a year later and Andrew Luck has been a total disaster. Most of that is injury-related, but the Indianapolis Colts’ franchise quarterback was stinking it up before he started missing games with ailments. Or was he? Some reports suggested he broke ribs in the 1st game of the season, thus leading to a cycle of bad play and further injuries. I know this much: Andrew Luck will be undervalued in 2016. Remember that come August 2016.
Demarco Murray is a possible candidate for this award, but I predicted he would be a disappointment. I did not see the Andrew Luck fall coming. If anyone competes for this position it is C.J. Anderson, who was actually a 1st round pick in many drafts. You know what…maybe C.J. Anderson deserves this award. Recount…
Devonta Freeman was the biggest surprise of 2015. In most of my drafts, Freeman was going off the board in the 5th or 6th round — or even later. That was understandable, since Tevin Coleman appeared to have won the starting job in training camp. A rib injury to Coleman in Week 2 opened the door for Freeman, and the shifty 2nd year back knocked the hinges off the door.
Despite a lousy season for the Atlanta Falcons and a midseason concussion, Devonta Freeman has been remarkably consistent besides the games marred by his concussion. If you were one of those teams who drafted him as a 3rd runner, you probably had a pretty good season — unless you waived him in your impatience in the first 2 weeks of the season. Players like Gary Barnidge and David Johnson have been nice surprises, too, but Freeman blows them all out of the water.
Antonio Brown remains the biggest difference maker. I looked at the Top 10 players in several leagues, most of which had QBs scoring 6 points for a touchdown. In those leagues, the only non-QB was Antonio Brown. Unlike any of the quarterbacks you’re willing to name, Antonio Brown has the most separation from his position. Aaron Donald is a remarkable story in IDP leagues, surpassing J.J. Watt in the final weeks of the season. If you play in an IDP format, you could make a case Aaron Donald is a rival for Antonio Brown in this category.
Fantasy Football Legal News – On September 3, Richard Berman upends the suspension of Tom Brady. He announces the NFL did not have the evidence to suspend Tom Brady. The sports media reports the startling lack of evidence Roger Goodell used. Instead, he used supposition and innuendo to uphold his original decisions.
MMA News – On September 14, the Nevada State Athletic Commission banned Nick Diaz for 5 years for marijuana use. It was Diaz’s third time to test positive for marijuana use, which is why such a harsh sentence was set down. Someone could make the case Nick Diaz is the Josh Gordon of the UFC, because he can’t seem to lay off the stuff.
Nick Diaz was defiant, though: he called the Nevada State Athletic Commission “dorks” (that’s the least they’ve been called). After his hearing, Nick Diaz said, “I’m pretty pissed. I got into this sport for this exact reason, being stuck in a room with people like that. I wanted to tell them what I think. I wanted to tell each and every one of them they’re a bunch of dorks. Everybody who sees them or knows who they are should tell them that. I would if it weren’t for my experts advising me to keep my mouth shut. I wanted to get up and say, ‘Look. You guys are way the f— out of line.'”
Lucas Middlebrook, Diaz’s lead attorney, was a little more diplomatic, but he said essentially the same thing. In fact, the charges he made were more damning, because he accused the commissioners of being biased, petty, and corrupt. They wouldn’t be the first officials to be so. Middlebrook said, “I think it was a completely arbitrary and capricious decision. You heard my opening statement. Based on the facts, if they were to make such a decision, it would be ripe for judicial review. This was a kangaroo court, and you heard the commission: Their decision wasn’t based on fact. It wasn’t based on evidence. One commissioner said, ‘Your attorneys were very persuasive, but you don’t respect us. So here’s a five-year ban.’ ”
October 2015: The Ethan Haskell Fiasco Amidst an Otherwise Glorious NFL Season
I’d love to say the biggest story of October was the arrival of Todd Gurley to the NFL, but it wouldn’t be true. Gurley was still recovering from his ACL injury most of September, but by October, he was establishing himself as the heir apparent to Adrian Peterson. While Gurley has faltered late in the year, that is expected of rookies. He’s surpassed most expectations and is likely to be the #1 pick in many (if not most) redrafts next season.
Fantasy hockey also got underway. In the first month of the season, the Dallas Stars had the league’s hottest scorers. Tyler Seguin and his linemate, Jamie Benn, led the league in points. Youth is served, though the Stars were still middle-of-the-pack in the NHL Standings after a month, as of December 22nd they now are 6 points ahead in the Central Division — and the Western Conference.
No, the biggest story in fantasy sports in October was the revelation that DraftKings employee Ethan Haskell had played in a FanDuel Sunday Million Event and won $350,000 for getting 2nd place — based on a $27 entry fee. Haskell later uploaded information to the Internet which indicated knowledge of the DraftKings “draft percentage” stat. An in-house investigation showed Haskell did not have that information until after lineups were locked on the Sunday of the contest, but that did not stop a firestorm of controversy from erupting.
Fans suggested Ethan Haskell might have used the DraftKings’ draft percentage stats to gain an unfair advantage in FanDuel contests. His best plays that week were Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, which I hardly consider industry secrets, but the damage was done. One hysterical Florida lawyer was quoted in the New York Times comparing the Ethan Haskell situation to “insider trading”. Despite the outlandish comments, a dogpile formed on DraftKings and FanDuel.
Part of that dogpile was their own fault. First, they should have had policies which kept employees from playing in competitors’ contests. I can understand why the companies wanted their employees active, because that makes them more enthusiastic and more knowledgeable, but it leads to the impression the industry is loosy-goosey with its policies (which it is, or was).
Second, and more importantly, FanDuel and DraftKings let their rivalry get the best of them. Both lost sight of the bigger picture while jockeying to be #1 in the daily fantasy sports industry.
They began to storm the airwaves with commercials, so many commercials that it started to alienate sports viewers. Not everyone is interested in DFS, and the regularity of the ads began to grate on a lot of people. Most of those people are everyday sports fans who’ll grumble a bit, then change the subject to start complaining about their local franchise. But some of them were ambulance-chasing lawyers and loud-mouthed pundits, political appointees and elected officials and even federal judges. After flying under the radar for 5 years, suddenly everyone knew this was a billion-dollar, unregulated industry. That’s bad.
By the end of October, nighttime talk show hosts were including DFS jokes in their monologues and doing skits poking fun of those commercials. When you’ve getting lampooned on the late night talk shows, you know you’ve stepped over some line.
November 2015: NFL Injury Apocalypse
Meanwhile, a storyline was building in the regular fantasy football world: the entire NFL seemed to be injured. By mid-November, it seemed like you could fill out an entire starting lineup with guys who were 2nd (even 3rd) stringers in August and still have a pretty good chance of winning.
People who had never heard of Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware two months earlier were now pinning their championship hopes on these guys. I was getting thousands of visitors a day reading a random article about a player I added on a lark in my dynasty league (Thomas Rawls), then wrote an obsessive article discussing his merits. These were by no means the only examples.
Sometimes, it was veterans everyone had dismissed years ago. For instance, Deangelo Williams and Ted Ginn Jr. were fantasy studs again. Had you told your buddy back in July that you thought Williams and Ginn were going to be key contributors, they would have told you 2005 wanted its fantasy football predictions back. And yet, there they are.
- Le’Veon Bell – Steelers RB
- Arian Foster – Texans RB
- Jamaal Charles – Chiefs RB
- Dion Lewis – Patriots RB
- Kelvin Benjamin – Panthers WR
- Jordy Nelson – Packers WR
- Steve Smith – Ravens Wideout
- Keenan Allen – Chargers WR
- Carlos Hyde – Niners RB
- Reggie Bush – Niners RB
- Jimmy Graham – Seahawks TE
- Tony Romo – Cowboys QB
- Melvin Gordon – Chargers RB
- Brian Hartline – Browns WR
- Robert Quinn – Rams DE
- Terrell Suggs – Ravens OLB/DE
- Joe Flacco – Ravens QB
- Justin Forsett – Ravens RB
- LeGarrette Blount – Patriots RB
- Thomas Rawls – Seahawks RB
- Joe Haden – Browns Cornerback
- Martellus Bennett – Bears TE
- Chris Johnson – Cardinals RB
- Glenn Dorsey – 49ers DT
- Colin Kaepernick – 49ers QB
- Victor Cruz – Giants WR
- Percy Harvin – Bills WR
- Cameron Wake – Dolphins DE
- Breshad Perriman – Ravens WR
I guarantee you, I’m forgetting a huge list of players. Not all of these players went out in November. Some were lost in September, October, November, and even December. But it was in the third month of the NFL regular season that it became evident how bad attrition was. November 1, 2015 is what a friend of mind called “Black Sunday”, because a whole list of the best NFL players were lost for the season that day.
Meanwhile, Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett announced that his earlier study had determined that daily fantasy sports was gambling. He was banning real money DFS operations which did not obtain a gaming license. The big companies wanted no part of that, because it was admitting their business was gambling. Then New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said his probe from the month before had convinced him DFS was gambling. Instead of calling for DraftKings and FanDuel to apply for a license, he said their operations were straight-up illegal under New York law. He sent cease-and-desist letters to FanDuel and DraftKings, giving them 5 days to end operations. Instead, they sued the State of New York.
December 2015: Odell Beckham Jr. Loses His Mind
December would turn up more stories in the DFS scandal. A New York Supreme Court justice upheld Schneiderman’s ban, though this was appealed. At present, DraftKings and FanDuel are still operating in New York, but that is only until a hearing in January to determine the fate of DFS in the state. A decision is coming in January 2016 and it could cost the DFS companies about 15% of their revenue base.
Luckily, fantasy football had other stories besides that nonsense. As always, the fantasy playoffs began in early December. The three-week process (for most leagues) began a weeding-out process. Those who started Andy Dalton and Thomas Rawls in the first week of the playoffs likely got trounced. (I had that happen and ended up advancing in the playoffs by 0.25 of a point. I’d say it’s lucky, but I lost two stars in the 1st Quarter of their games — I should have won by 40.)
The key moment of the playoffs might end up being the game Odell Beckham Jr. lost his mind. Everyone knows ODB had a coming out party in 2014. What people might not know is ODB was the single fantasy player on the most fantasy football championship teams in 2014. (CJ Anderson was second.) With the 23-year old Giants receiver coming into his own even more in 2015, many franchises with Beckham on the roster made their league finals. Those teams won’t have the services of Odell Beckham in Week 16, because Roger Goodell suspended him.
Thus, the NFL season comes full circle. It began with a big story of Roger Goodell suspending a star player. It ends in the same way. I’m not saying the suspension is meritless. Odell Beckham should have been tossed from the game by the referees on Sunday, and the NFL is only cleaning up their mistake.