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The NFL Wants to Use Fantasy Football to Help Teach Students Math

In an interview with Steven Perlberg of The Wall Street Journal, National Football League chief marketing officer Mark Waller shared how the league hopes to reach young football fans.

One strategy Waller shared? Using fantasy football to bolster their math skills.

It's a complex game, fantasy. You should be able to learn a lot, particularly around math. How many points do I need? How many points does this player get? We're also trying to work with groups to get the concept of fantasy based into the curriculum of elementary schools. If you love football and you teach them math through football, the chances are you may teach them better math and more quickly.

For those who haven't taken the fantasy plunge, here's the basic rundown: You draft an assortment of players—quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends, at the very least—then accumulate points based on their exploits on the field each week. Scoring systems vary by league—some prefer bonuses for long touchdowns, others award extra points for every reception—but ultimately, the goal is to accumulate more points than your opponent on a week-to-week basis.

Here's a screenshot of a fantasy scoreboard from last year, for the visually inclined:

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 12.15.24 AM.png

With the fantasy sports industry expected to grow into a $2 billion behemoth in the next five years, according to research firm IBISWorld (via ESPN's Darren Rovell), the NFL's strategy of using fantasy football as a teaching tool may have some merit.

Back in 2011, Patrick Honner and Holly Epstein Ojalvo shared a common-core-aligned lesson plan tying fantasy football to the classroom in The New York Times. They suggested pairing students up and having them each choose one quarterback, one running back, and one wide receiver for a given week. After doing so, they recommended having the students evaluate their players' upcoming matchups using data from previous weeks.

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.

As the students will soon realize after the weekly NFL results are in, there's often a significant difference between "expected" performance and what actually unfolds on the gridiron. One busted play can lead to an 80-yard touchdown, turning an unappealing matchup into fantasy gold. Conversely, an injury could sideline a player early into a juicy matchup, earning a fantasy owner far fewer points than otherwise expected. (Those are the days you swear to never play fantasy football again.)

For teachers looking to incorporate real-life examples into their classrooms—thus cutting off students' "we're never going to use this in real life!" argument at the head—you could do far worse than drawing upon fantasy football to teach some math skills.

Photo: A screenshot of a Week 16 matchup from an ESPN fantasy football league last season. 

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