Don't leave if you're not a sports fan. Today's Tank McNamara isn't about sports.
It's about gambling, and then I'll show you a classic scam from the early days of personal computing which, if you don't mind risking prosecution, you could profitably run on Facebook today with only a few modifications.
In case you're blissfully unaware of this workplace scourge, "fantasy leagues" are a gambling game which began in offices and among friends, much like the pools on the weekly football games or the NCAA basketball tournament.
But they're more sports-nerd oriented, since, instead of simply picking which teams will win, you choose real NFL players for your imaginary team and then get points based on their individual game statistics throughout the season.
As Tank points out, it has nothing to do with teams or games or who wins or loses, except, as his officemate suggests, who wins or loses the Fantasy League.
Now, it used to be that sports gambling was part of the street scene run by local mobs, and, in fact, I knew a kid in South Bend -- nephew of a connected fellow whom I also knew -- who sold football slips in the fall and ran numbers throughout the year. (Nice thing about organized crime is that they pay their interns. But I digress.)
Today, fantasy leagues are huge, and they're not only advertised on sports radio, but the networks and even the NFL run their own games, and they're legal, which proves that the mob doesn't have nearly as much pull in Congress as some other folks do.
As explained here, Congress specifically exempted fantasy leagues from gambling laws, the cover story being that they are based on skill and not on the outcome of individual games or the success of real-world teams.
But leave us not bullshit one another: As the blogger in that link notes, poker is not a game of chance, either, nor, I would add, is craps.
My father made a fair amount of money shooting craps in the army because, as an engineer, he had a good head for probability, and he also had a strange ability to stay cool and play those odds, and, for instance, to avoid extravagant wagering in an attempt to instantly rebuild his pot if he got behind.
Meanwhile, Professor William Fields has spoken to the skills needed to win at poker.
The real skill in fantasy league is related to my father's ability to put the dice down when the odds were against him, and those exhibited by professional poker players: Ignoring the appeal of the game itself and concentrating simply on the numbers.
To win in a fantasy league, you have to choose your players based on the numbers they will generate for you, not necessarily for their team. Numbers are numbers, whether they are part of a glorious victory or are simply amassed in futile, fourth-quarter desperation.
Winning is not only not related to your loyalty or affection for teams or players, but those factors work against you: Fantasy leagues are for people who are not distracted by an interest in sports.
The actual fans who play are the suckers.
Speaking of whom, here's the scam I promised:
Back in the early days of the Web, O Best Beloved, when, instead of Facebook and suchlike, we had email listservs, there were fellows who would offer free tips on how to bet on the week's football games.
They must have begun collecting suckers through spamming, but, however they got your attention, the scam involved getting you subscribed to their system of weekly emails.
The key was that, come playoff time, they would start charging for their tips, and by the Super Bowl, the people on their list were willing to pay a premium for their insight, because, throughout the playoffs, their picks had been invariably right.
Only here's how the "invariably right" part worked:
They would amass a huge number of bettors over the course of the season. Then, when the regular season was wrapping up, they would divide the list in two, sending an email for their chosen payoff game, but predicting one team as the winner to one of the lists, and an email picking the other team to the other part of the list.
The punters who got the wrong pick would, understandably, stop trusting them, but the ones who got the correct pick would stay and then, the next week, another pair of conflicting emails would pare the list of active bettors once more.
At which point, it's click go the shears, boys.
Make that final collection from the remaining suckers, send them all the same Super Bowl pick, and who cares whether you were right or wrong?
You'll be back the next year with a different name and the same game.
You could easily replicate this con on Facebook, simply by having people "like" your page and then using "groups" to post conflicting picks as you winnowed down the sucker list to the ones who would make it all worthwhile.
Then, when you go before the judge, you could explain to him that it didn't happen by chance and that the money you collected is a testament to your skills.
Which is a helluva lot better explanation than trying to convince him that it's because you love football.