Time to make fantasy football your reality

Fantasy football is all about the numbers -- draft position, points per reception, waiver wire order... The list goes on and on, but here's our favorite statistic: 5.4 million women play fantasy football, according to research done by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association and the market research company Ipsos. Women account for approximately 20 percent of all fantasy players.

These figures underscore what we already know: Women have a legitimate and established presence on the fantasy sports landscape. There are a plethora of fantasy football sites by and for women, including Fantasy Football Librarian and Girls Guide to Fantasy Football. And when it comes to fantasy sports, art imitates life: On FX's "The League," a sitcom about a male-dominated fantasy football league, it is Jenny, the wife of one of the main characters, who is depicted as having the superior fantasy mind.

Women make up a significant percentage of the NFL fan base, and we know women enjoy competition just as much as their male counterparts. Paul Charchian, president of the FSTA, acknowledges that women play fantasy football for reasons that go beyond wins and losses.

"Broadly speaking, women play to socialize, to feel part of a group, to experience the camaraderie inherent in fantasy sports," Charchian said.

Fantasy is an outlet through which women can enjoy football, indulge their competitiveness, socialize with friends -- and hone their trash-talking skills. What more motivation do you need to join a league and enter the fray?

Wait! You're hesitant about signing up? Well, that's why we're here. We intend to convince you that there is no acceptable excuse for not playing fantasy football. You can thank us later… probably by Week 6.

W DEBUNKS SOME FANTASY MYTHS

Here are some of the common excuses we hear from women who opt to stay on the sideline when it comes to fantasy football; we're here to punt each one away.

I like football but I'm just a casual viewer. Isn't fantasy for hardcore fans?

Definitely not. Fantasy is not about diagramming complex offensive schemes or debating the top 10 punters of all time. You simply draft a roster of players, submit a weekly lineup and watch the points accumulate. You can take the path of least resistance and religiously follow the advice of an expert like Matthew Berry, or you can choose players just because they're on your favorite team. Once the season is under way and your competitive juices are flowing, your interest and appreciation for the game will likely increase naturally. The next thing you know, you'll be checking your lineup more regularly than Facebook.

I want to try fantasy football, but all my friends are lame bookworms who say they don't have the "brain space" for sports.>

That's easy. ESPN.com offers you the option to join any of thousands of leagues, many of which already have members but are in need of a few more participants just like you. If you're new to fantasy, we suggest you join a standard league with the most basic scoring rules. But as you get comfortable, we encourage you to try a variety of leagues with more sophisticated scoring customizations. Forget eHarmony; this is matchmaking at its finest.

Fantasy football is too expensive. If I have an extra $150, isn't it better spent on something important, like two boxes of cereal at Whole Foods?

Sure, some owners play for cash prizes or other awards in high-stakes leagues. But we find this is more the exception than the norm. Many established leagues have a significantly lower entry fee, if any. And we've rarely seen a brand-new league charge more than $25. If you want to play just for fun, again, we encourage you to join a free league on ESPN.com.

Fantasy football is just too much of a time commitment.

Wrong. Fantasy requires as little or as much time as you care to invest. And time spent does not necessarily correlate with wins and losses; there's a fair bit of luck involved. There are some folks for whom fantasy is indeed a huge time killer. They are constantly tinkering with their lineup, hitting the waiver wires and free agent list, proposing trades and spending hours upon hours trying to one-up their opponents through trash- talking.

However, if you have, say, a job or a social life, you can do fine with a very minimal time investment. Fantasy football is much less demanding than fantasy baseball, which requires you to check in on your roster almost daily. So if you don't have much time to prepare, join a football league, change your draft settings to "autopick" (though the draft can be really fun), set a Week 1 starting lineup and don't think about it again until one of your players is injured or on a bye week. Chances are you'll fall somewhere in the middle of your league. With just a tad more effort, you can make significant gains.

What if I can't be in front of the television on Sundays?

Fortunately, you don't have to be in front of your TV to set your lineup or monitor your team's performance. You can set your lineup anytime, anywhere in advance of Sunday kickoff. All you need is to log in to your online league and plug in your players. You can even do it via a smartphone with the fantasy football app. The system automatically keeps score for you and you can track how your players are doing via your computer or any of your mobile devices. Isn't technology fabulous?

But it all still seems so complicated.

We've tried to alleviate some of the common concerns. Just know that there are numerous resources out there designed to metaphorically hold your hand. To simplify, pick one site and its team of experts and stick with that. (We like this little start-up called ESPN.com.) No matter what you choose, you will find that you'll quickly build upon the knowledge you gain each week. And when you see how much fun you're having celebrating victories over your girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses, bosses, coworkers, annoying neighbors or even your kids each week, you will continue to refine your strategy. Fantasy, frankly, is no more complicated than setting up online billing and, in the end, much more satisfying.

We'd like to think we've deflected any excuses you may have for avoiding fantasy football, but in case you've come up with any others, please post them here and give us a chance to explain those away, too. And if you have any questions at all about how fantasy football works, including how leagues are structured from rosters to scoring systems, please ask away. In the meantime, head on over to ESPN.com to explore the fantasy football page. Check out our fantasy draft kit, our featured articles and the mock draft lobby.

Come on. We dare you. You won't be able to stay away.

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