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POV: Fantasy Sports a Scandal Waiting to Flourish

This “sport,” like others, needs regulation, leagues, ethical coaches

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From the Black Sox scandal of 1919 to 2007’s Spygate, the videotaping controversy involving the New England Patriots, competitive sports and ethics have been incompatible bedfellows. Such recent scandals as Enron and the subprime mortgage crisis show how corporate business has been fertile soil for ethical missteps. With these things in mind, the recent fantasy sports scandals should come as little surprise. Fantasy sports is both sports and business—a double danger of bending or breaking norms that maintain fairness and public trust.

In fantasy sports, players assemble virtual teams with real-life athletes and play against one another for big money. The scandal involves allegations that fantasy firms’ employees were using insider information to make jackpot-winning bets. Rotisserie League gaming (the most common method of fantasy baseball) is many decades old and now has made it to the major leagues. During this journey, it has found a new identity as a “sport.” Monopoly is a game; fantasy sports are played with real, and big, money. The lines have been blurred with ESPN (“The World Wide Leader in Sports”) giving fantasy gaming the same standing as the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and the National Hockey League on the navigation bar of its home page. Just like general managers of professional sports teams, fantasy sports competitors manage real athletes who put up real points to win them real championships. There is little that is frivolous about fantasy sports in this day and age.

Beyond fantasy sports being more real than ever, the business is booming. The advertised potential profits from playing exceed the median household income in the United States. Playing could be better business than your 9-to-5 job. Moreover, being part of fantasy sports is simply good business. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, two very successful businessmen, are investors in online fantasy sports companies. Either way you cut it, there is a perception that significant money is to be had by being part of these games.

Competition and money: a mix ripe for ethical missteps.

It is easy to take a holier-than-thou look at the suspect behaviors of fantasy sport company employees, yet it may be wiser to realize the ease of neglecting good judgment in this environment. A long, long time ago, sports was seen as recreation. Play. Trivial. While these are quaint ideals, it would be naïve not to think that sports has become a serious part of our competitive and entertainment landscape. Despite the rising stakes of athletics, it is warming to think of fantasy sports as a pure, fun-loving endeavor. If it was, why would it be regulated like a serious business? It’s simply a recreational activity where a few friends try to guess who will play well each week—right?

The fantasy factor and the anonymity of the online world can easily separate a player from good sense. In a world where opponents don’t interact in the flesh and athletes are simple statistics on a screen, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that using insider knowledge to slant the playing field causes harm to others.

Studies have shown that the farther one is from genuine human social contact in a situation, the easier it is to make questionable moral decisions. In many respects, cheating at fantasy sports feels like a victimless crime. Yet the financial cost to others is rarely calculated, nor is the moral cost of deceit earnestly explored. The other players aren’t friends or neighbors vividly sharing their frustration or loss. Screen names are abstract entities that have little emotional resonance with others. When competitive communities are socially disconnected, cheating takes root much more easily.

It appears that these concepts and safeguards were neglected during the development of the fantasy gaming industry. It was all good fun, until it became a big-time sport and big business. Just as competitive sports needs ethical coaches and sports science professionals to protect players, so does fantasy sports. Just as professional sports needs leagues that assure fairness to preserve the trust of the fans, so does fantasy sports. Just as big business needs checks and balances to assure ethical practices to protect clients and the public welfare, so does fantasy sports. The recent scandals in the fantasy sports industry were preventable. As always, hindsight is 20-20, and future regulatory decisions hopefully will shape the fantasy landscape to provide a fair playing field for all.

Adam Naylor (SED’97,’01) is a School of Education clinical assistant professor of counseling psychology, human development, and sports psychology; he has educated and coached Olympic, college, major league, and minor league athletes for more than a decade. He can be reached at ahnaylor@bu.edu.

“POV” is an opinion page that provides timely commentaries from students, faculty, and staff on a variety of issues: on-campus, local, state, national, or international. Anyone interested in submitting a piece, which should be about 700 words long, should contact Rich Barlow at barlowr@bu.edu. BU Today reserves the right to reject or edit submissions. The views expressed are solely those of the author and are not intended to represent the views of Boston University.

7 Comments

7 Comments on POV: Fantasy Sports a Scandal Waiting to Flourish

  • Mark Jackson on 10.21.2015 at 5:30 am

    This just has no grounding in fact whatsoever…there’s not a single quantitative or cited study in here. Fantasy sports are played against friends for the most part. What you’re referring to are daily fantasy leagues which are a different beast altogether. Fantasy is just fun between friends 80% of the time.

    • JP on 10.21.2015 at 10:32 am

      I would argue the “grounding” for his opinion piece (not a fact-based news article) is simply that fantasy sports are clearly “booming” and “promote gambling,” which if you watch football you could easily make this connection with the total number of commercials on a given day dedicated to daily fantasy spots and the tag line constantly pushed about “winning money.”

      I agree with you 100% that season-long fantasy and daily fantasy are two vastly different things. I think this article is implicitly about daily fantasy leagues that promote gambling. Granted Professor Naylor fails to make the distinction, but his argument regarding the slippery slope fantasy sports are on is, in my opinion, well founded. Gambling and sports can lead to serious ethical dilemmas. I play season-long fantasy football but that doesn’t mean I can’t see the potential for possible problems associated with daily fantasy (again, just watch football on the weekend and count the number of commercial you see for it) and even ethical problems associated with the “big business” of season-long fantasy.

      The most important thing to take from this, however, is that this is an opinion piece, not intended to be taken as fact.

      • Jose Artigas on 10.23.2015 at 7:06 pm

        “… this is an opinion piece, not intended to be taken as fact.”

        I respectfully dissent from this view. Though it’s not the same as a news story, an opinion piece should be grounded in evidence. Opinion writers do have leeway to interpret (spin?) the data they include, something that, ideally, news stories should avoid.

  • j on 10.21.2015 at 8:48 am

    TOTALLY agree with Mark’s comment. There is a VERY LARGE distinction between season long Fantasy sports and Daily fantasy sports which the author neglected to point out. Season long fantasy sports leagues have been active since the 1960’s.

    I assume this commentary is in reference to the recent DraftKings/Fanduel scandal which took place in Daily fantasy sports. I agree completely that this is an unregulated market with large sums of money at stake and it needs more structure and regulation.

    However, to lump ALL fantasy sports into the same bucket is unfair and naïve. Season long fantasy leagues do not need regulated as it is a collection of a small group of people (friends, family, neighbors, etc.) having fun together.

    The article makes some good points but leaves out the most important – this ONLY applies to DAILY fantasy sports.

  • Marianne Alpapara on 10.21.2015 at 10:09 am

    I don’t find this article being fair to daily fantasy sports. Yes, you pointed out how successful it has become but at the same time you also stated harmful information against the said sports fantasy. Everybody who is into sports will surely appreciate everything about it, if you are passionate about basketball, football and all other sports participating in daily sports then you will find time to learn what this is all about and they have a website that you can visit and easily sign up or register, in fact i have heard that they will be having a conference next year around March. Maybe the reason behind the writer’s opinion is all about the recent scandal that was never proven yet, these are all allegations. Fantasy sports has big time investors and i am pretty sure that they did their research before joining it. I have also did my own investigation and found out nothing but pure fun and it also gives us the chance to earn money.

    • Jose Artigas on 10.23.2015 at 7:11 pm

      Sorry, but it’s the actual games that interest me. Sports, especially baseball, offer more than enough statistics for hard-core fans. True fans don’t require fantasy leagues & games. Fantasy sports promote irresponsible gambling & encourage addition. And consider that in football, they’re essentially sending players out to kill each other. Betting on such lethal sports, i.e. profiting from the violence, seems markedly unethical.

  • live Ptv sports on 10.22.2015 at 6:45 am

    but fantasy sports is famous in this area.

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