Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Are You Ready for Some... Football Fundraising?

By Al Giordano

Football is a coach's game, of strategy, and of leadership of unruly youngsters, many of whom get in plenty of trouble both on and off the field. It's like chess, except the pieces weigh 300 pounds and hit each other really, really hard.

Football, like life, is a contact sport. It is also about community organizing and managing the seemingly unmanageable against tough odds, obstacles, and adversaries.

Obsessed with NFL football and a student of how head coaches organize their players to win, it still wasn't until the 2010 season that I waded into the world of fantasy football. Late to the game, I was around the 35 millionth player in the stadium. I named my team, The Narcos, drafted and traded for players, engaged in predatory waiver wire and free agent feeding, and The Narcos took me to a league championship.

The usual emptiness one feels when the football season is over was compounded with the realization that I had just spent hours per week on a game without consequences all for a puny, pixelated cyber-trophy. That got me thinking about about how to make those hours work for something good and worthwhile other than bragging rights to nine other fantasy team coaches who must have felt even emptier: after all, they had just lost to the rookie.

Thus came the idea of the Fantasy Football-a-Thon, to benefit The Fund for Authentic Journalism, which supports my work and that of other journalists, especially those at Narco News and its School of Authentic Journalism. Now I've recruited one of my competitors from the 2010 season, Sarah Lawrence College professor Dominic Corva - whose fantasy team had the best won-lost record and highest points scored in our league last year (only to lose in the first round of the playoffs, right Dom?) - to be the commissioner of this, The Authentic League. As Commish, he'll referee and arbitrate any disputes over how league rules are interpreted.

If you're anything as crazy about this sport as we are, you probably have one of those 35 million fantasy football teams out there.

And if you are going to be a champion, why not be an authentic champion?

You can, now, finally, make all the hours you spend on this silly game work for a worthy cause: funding independent investigative journalism and the training of authentic journalists.

Here is how this league will work:

1. Name your team: Send me an email at narconews@gmail.com to reserve your team name. In August, you will receive the league rules and settings and a coaches agreement, as well as pointers to help you with the next step.

2. Get your fans and friends to donate or pledge: Between now and September 1, 2011, get pledges of pennies-per-point from your friends and fans to be donated to The Fund for Authentic Journalism in this calendar year. It's a tax exempt nonprofit organization that supports Narco News and the School of Authentic Journalism.

A one penny pledge will amount to about $15 or $20 by the end of the year. Here's how: An average team will score a little over or under 100 points a week (or sometimes on a really great week, maybe 140 or more). Over the first 14 weeks of the season, when all ten teams play, that adds up to between 1,500 and 1,800 points. A great team will score slightly more, as much as 2,000 points. An awful team (say, one that picks all Buffalo Bills players) still scores about 1,000 over the course of the season. Two cents? About $30 to $42. A nickel? About $75 to $105.... And if your team goes to the playoffs in Week 15 and 16 of the NFL season in December, it will make another few bucks for the cause.

The pennies - we'll keep track of the math for you and post the running total each week of funds your football team and fans have raised here on this blog and also at our highly trafficked mothership, The Field, on Narco News - add up into needed resources for real independent journalism. And your fans (and you, if you pledge to your own team) can even get a tax-deduction for the final amount donated. Recruiting your friends and fans to pledge to your team is also a great way to spread the word about Narco News and the authentic journalism movement that is accomplishing lots to shake up and attack the problem of media in our times. You'll probably get some interesting conversations out of it because you'll hear what we have learned: that the public has legitimate grievances against the mass media and would like to see something done about it.

3. How you can qualify for the main league: We will fill as many leagues as we can, but even if we start with only one it will be a fun and worthwhile experiment. First, all coaches will sign an agreement to remain active setting their rosters and managing their teams for the entire season, regardless of whether the team is in the stellar or the cellar, and also to be responsive to the other players in the league and their trade offers (even a simple email of "no thanks" will suffice, but we don't consider nonresponse to be in the spirit and competitive camaraderie of the league). From that pool, the eight teams whose coaches have raised (through pre-paid pledges or one-time donations received by September 1, 2011) the highest total in donations will be invited to compete in the main league against Commissioner Corva and me. And I'll be reporting from this blog on each week's games, offering weekly projections, and analyzing this fantasy league and NFL football in all its glory. Your team will likely receive more attention and fans than you thought were possible while playing fantasy football. You will earn the love and respect of hundreds of journalists, donors and supporters of authentic journalism, as well as hundreds of thousands of readers of Narco News. And you'll be doing good by playing well.

If there are enough coaches signed up to create an additional league (or leagues) we'll do that, find a way to make each one special and noticeable, and highlight them to our readers, too. We invite you to come in on the ground floor of something that might catch fire, maybe even as "the new hot" in nonprofit fundraising. And even if it doesn't, we'll all have a great time raising funds for authentic journalism.

4. Draft your team: Once you make the league, a live online draft date will be set shortly before the regular NFL season begins.

The main league will be on the Yahoo Fantasy Football platform, with this roster: 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 Flex (RB or WR), 1 TE, 1 DEF, 7 bench players (any position) and three Individual Defense Players (IDPs): 1 LB, 1 DL and 1 DB. Note that this is a placekicker-free-zone, we've dropkicked that position through the goal posts (no more coaches blaming the kicker for their loss). League rules, to be announced, will favor attentive coaches whose obsession with the game leads them to pounce quickly to take advantage of injuries or surprise sleepers and busts, because we believe your obsession should be rewarded: There will be no "waiting period" for free agent pick-ups, only for players that another team drops onto the waiver wire. (Of course, if you want to organize a group of coaches to have your own league with more traditional rules - like "waiting periods" for free agents - and want to make your league work for this worthy cause, we'll definitely want to feature your league, too, in our coverage.)

5. Manage your team: Set your roster each week, trade through mid-November, and compete each week with rival teams to get to the playoffs in December, weeks 15 and 16 of the NFL season. The three top playoff teams will receive shining real-life trophies for your trophy cases, as will the Most Valuable Player (the coach that raises the most resources for the cause).

6. Win a real trophy: The main league champ, plus the second and third place finishers, will each receive a genuine Authentic League Trophy immortalizing your triumph, and all players will receive a certificate of appreciation for your service. There will also be a league MVP trophy for the team that raises the most funds in this contest, regardless of the final outcome on the fantasy season scoreboard.

Finally, let's all congratulate the NFL Players Association for staring down the owners in recent contract negotiations.

We agree with Dave Zirin, who writes:

"What the NFLPA has done is the equivalent of the Bad News Bears squeaking out a victory against the 1927 New York Yankees… It’s workers, in an age of austerity, beating back the bosses and showing that solidarity is the only way to win.

"I remember talking to NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith at the start of this process, and hearing his optimism in the face of these odds, as he spoke of the bravery of workers in Wisconsin and the people of Egypt who he said were inspiring him to fight the good fight. He mentioned the books he was reading like the classic Civil Rights history Parting the Waters: America in the King Years by Taylor Branch. I remember smiling politely at De Smith and thinking, 'This guy is going to get creamed.'

"I was very wrong…."

Well played, gentlemen, well played.

Today's Organizing Challenge for Coaches, Players and Fans: To minimize any "flake factor" we will count only the actual donations raised by September 1 - and not pledges yet unreceived - to qualify the teams in the main league. And we'll make this offer to create a little competitive incentive: the team that raises the most funds by midnight the evening of September 1 will be able to choose its own preferred draft position among ten slots. The Commish and I are disqualified from that contest, so you'll already have a leg up on us if it is you. The remainder of draft positions will be chosen randomly by Yahoo's Fantasy Football computer.

Don't forget to reserve your team name, today, and thus let us know of your interest in the league by writing to narconews@gmail.com. We'll send you a confirmation email with more details and keep you in the loop as we develop this new way to play the game.

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