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estimates 10 to 15 serious guys dominateminate college basketball’s daily tournaments.nts. A 28-year-old who lives on the outskirts rts of Detroit and has worked recently as saa parole case manager, Schiller writes an advice column on college basketball at Rotogrinders. He thinks he’ll make $ 80,000 to $ 100,000 this season (which started in midNovember), about double what he made last year. Like other college fantasy players, Schiller doesn’t enter many contests in other sports. s. He says what he does feels like seaasonal work. “I’m trying to get into data analytics, a data-science job,” he says ys of his long-term career plans.
Becoming a college basketball ll shark requires special dedication. Division sion I of the NCAA includes 351 basketball teams, compared with just 30 in the NBA. And there’s less information available about college athletes. “So many schools, so many players, so many backups, and you always get new freshmen every year,” says Matt Kern, a 27-year-old banker in Sarasota, Fla., who says he netted $10,000 to $15,000 playing fantasy college basketball last year.
Kern’s weekly routine begins with checking the Las Vegas betting lines for games expected to be close. He avoids picking players from lopsided matchups, because the starters often get benched early, limiting their chance to pile up stats. Verrill, who lives in Portland, Maine, and works at a company that runs background checks, says he spends a couple of hours a day on Kenpom.com, a database of statistics and projections maintained by college hoops junkie Ken Pomeroy.
Like everyone else in daily fantasy, Verrill is hunting for “sleepers.” The contests involve selecting players from a site’s menu of options, with each one assigned a price. Generally, contestants have to stay below a spending cap in assembling their roster, so the skill comes in finding unsung, undervalued players. Sox22 finds them better than anybody. Take Vitto Brown, a little-known junior forward for the University of Wisconsin. On a Wednesday in February, sox22 picked him in a Fanduel game when only 4.1 percent of other people did. Brown scored a career-high 18 points that night against the University of Nebraska.
For most of the college basketball season, sox22 and other sharks circle one another, passing money back and forth. They also feed on a strange breed of deep-pocketed entrant who can’t resist picking rosters loaded with players from their favorite teams. One sentimentalist, whose handle is donhomer, seems to be a University of Maryland alum. This may appear to be a decent strategy to the uninitiated; Maryland is a strong program packed with talent. But because athletes are priced according to their reputations—the better you are, the more you cost— such loyalty creates easy money for more coldblooded players who seek only the most efficient performers.
Around the NBA All-star break in mid-february, things start changing. Pro basketball fans get itchy during the layoff, and entering a few college basketball contests seems a logical alternative. Then, with the NCAA tournament, comes the real feeding frenzy, as office workers look to amplify the fun of filling out a bracket. “That’s my favorite time to play,” Kern says. “You get a lot of those fish in there.” He says he made at le least half of last year’s winnings in March. Schiller and others say the their best streaks came during the 2015 tournament. They say 2016 will be even bigger.
That’s as far ahead as they’re wi willing borne to of look.a carve-The youngout in industry,a 2006 federal law that clamped down on online betting, is under scrutiny from state regulators. In New Y York, which has the largest daily fa fantasy market, Attorney General E Eric Schneiderman has called the co contests illegal gambling and is battling in court to end them. (The sites defend themselves by arguing that they offer legal “games of skill.”) Several other states are considering more regulation. Laws already on the books have kept operators out of six states. The NCAA, for its part, has tried to distance itself from the industry. Last summer the association asked sites to stop offering contests based on its games, saying the practice was “inconsistent with our values, bylaws, rules, and interpretations regarding sports wagering.” In the fall it banned daily fantasy sites from TV advertising during its championship events.
The controversy hasn’t stopped the sites, but there’s widespread fear that the industry might collapse the way online poker did after a federal crackdown in 2011. Kern says he withdraws his money immediately after every win. Verrill, who kicks in up to $5,000 nightly, says he could live comfortably for the next year with what he’s made so far this season, but he isn’t counting on that cash flow. “I was really considering quitting my job and just going full-time daily fantasy,” he says. “But it seems like too much of a risk right now.”
If the nightmare scenario plays out and the sites are shut down, fantasy castaways will continue to sing the praises of sox22 in chat rooms of the future. We thought we’d found him at one point, when his handle appeared in the Twitter bio of a frequent competitor, but it turned out to be an inside joke playing on sox22’s legendary status. Kern, for his part, suspects that sox22 isn’t a person, but people. “I think you’ve got 5, 10, 15, 20 guys pitching in,” he says. In this theory, the sox22 syndicate uses algorithms and computer scripts to generate lineups, and it pools resources and brainpower to chase bigger profits. Schiller doesn’t buy it. “I do know that someone spoke to him at the Draftkings event for football,” he says. “They said he was a nice guy—and a real person.” <BW>