In spite of the fact that random events like injuries and weather can affect outcomes in your friendly fantasy league, big business (read the major sports leagues, network TV, and online sports portals) were able to convince Congress that fantasy sports are games of skill and therefore fantasy league participants should be allowed to pay to play and win prizes including cash without them being considered gambling. Games that fall into the category of fantasy must involve the selection of individual players where their performance earns you points, not simply selecting entire teams to win in given match-ups.
But, do pick'em games require some level of skill? Does analysis of team or player stats along with game conditions lead to a higher percentage of correct picks during the course of a season? From our data, we can see that on average, PoolHost.com users pick straight winners roughly 60% of the time. Those users picking against the spreads are correct just under 50% of the time (right where the odds makers want you!).
Still, there are some players who seem to be able to beat those percentages on a consistent basis, so are they using skill or knowledge of the game to pick winners at a higher percentage than others?
We decided to do an experiment this season to answer that question once and for all. To do so, we created our own version of the old stock portfolio experiment where scientists had a monkey choose stocks from the newspaper by pointing or drooling on stock symbols to create a portfolio to see if he could outperform the so-called experts.
In our experiment, we put together a group of 17 guys, all with big egos, to participate in an NFL pool where picks are made against the spreads, picking 5 teams each week to cover and using the confidence format where picks are weighted from 5 to 1, 5 being most confident. To this group of 17, we added another pick sheet we called "The Monkey". Each week, the monkey was assigned random picks using the PoolHost.com "Random Picks" button. In a weighted game, the random button gives you random teams AND random confidence weights.
So how did the monkey do? With one week left in the regular season, he's in 4th place, seriously bruising the egos of at least 14 participants who strongly believed that they knew what they were doing each week. Here is a chart showing the monkey's season rank by week:
As you can see, things looked discouraging for the majority of the homosapien participants during weeks 3 through 10! The monkey was even able to do this well picking Detroit six times this season (sorry Lions fans!).
Of course this experiment is far from scientific but seems to indicate that little skill is involved when trying to pick winners or teams to cover the spreads. But could a monkey put together a fantasy team that would do better than average or better than most? If so, could fantasy sports still be considered games of skill? We're guessing that lobby supporting this $1.5 billion dollar industry is ready to convince anyone who asks that it is.
What do you think? Let us know your thoughts!