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How to Teach Students Math With Fantasy Football

Being an admitted fantasy football addict, I can't help but point back to a New York Times blog post earlier in the week that devises a math lesson for students around fantasy football.

Having played for the last three years, I can vouch for the fact that there's an insane amount of professional football data available, and no shortage of fantasy football analysts hoping to make sense of it all. (This lesson plan comes prepackaged to fit into the common-core standards, too.)

The Times recommends orienting students with the rules of fantasy football—explaining that success is tied to players' statistical performance in a given week—then running a competition to see if math skills can help non-football fans do equally well as football fans in fantasy football.

(A brief breakdown of fantasy football rules: Players are awarded points based on certain accomplishments. In ESPN leagues with standard rules, quarterbacks receive 1 point for every 25 yards passing and 4 points per touchdown, while running backs and wide receivers earn 1 point for every 10 yards rushing or receiving and 6 points per rushing or receiving touchdown. The point systems vary, depending on your league's rules—some leagues will have QBs earn 6 points per passing touchdown, etc.)

After presenting students with fantasy football draft tips and a small sampling of statistics, the Times suggests pairing the students up and having each pair choose one quarterback, one running back, and one wide receiver for a given week. (In a standard fantasy football league, owners often pick multiple running backs and wide receivers to play each week, along with a tight end, an NFL team's defense/special teams, and a kicker.)

Then, it's time to get into the real nitty-gritty of fantasy football: matchup plays.

Once the pairs pick their players, the Times' lesson plan calls for them to evaluate the players' upcoming matchups, using statistics from previously played games.

"Have students create a measurement for a 'matchup' that takes into consideration both the player and the opponent. A simple place to start is averaging the player and opponent data. For example, if a quarterback throws for an average of 300 yards per game, and the opposing defense allows an average of 220 yards passing per game, then assign a value of (300 + 220) / 2 = 260 yards of passing for that 'matchup.' The same basic idea can be applied to touchdowns and interceptions. Encourage students to propose, create and experiment with their own metrics."

Students can also produce similar calculations for their running backs and wide receivers, but the defensive statistics will be more difficult to glean. One running back or wide receiver will only account for a portion of a team's total yards through the air or on the ground.

After the weekend passes, it's time to calculate the results.

Chances are, not every matchup played out as projected. Much like the real-life NFL, many fantasy football squads can win or lose on any given Sunday.

Sometimes, it's a simple as a great player having an awful statistical day. Other times, an NFL team may fall behind by three touchdowns and must completely abandon its running game to try and catch up. Factors such as home-field advantage, divisional rivalries, and domed stadiums could all also affect the outcome of a week's game.

This lends itself to a great classroom discussion. Why didn't a certain matchup unfold as predicted? How should students adjust their player-selection strategies, based on the outcome of that week's game?

Any teachers looking for a real-world application of math for their students could do far worse than the NY Times' fantasy football lesson plan.

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