April 11, 2016 Yerba Buena Cen­ter San Fran­cisco CHECK:


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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>


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