Students’ fantasy league boosts Olympics excitement

auren Pond

Communication senior Howard Tilman leapt out of his chair and hooted Wednesday night as Chinese speed skater Fu Tianyu won a bronze medal. A few minutes later, Tianyu was disqualified. Tilman’s face fell.

Tilman had a stake in the race. As part of a fantasy Winter Olympics league, he and seven other Northwestern students earn points when their assigned teams and players win medals.

“I honestly had no business rooting for anyone in that race, but because I had someone on my fantasy team, there I was jumping up and down after my player just barely beat someone out for the bronze medal,” Tilman said.

The league is one of several ways students are celebrating the 2006 Winter Olympics, which began Feb. 10.

The fantasy league is the brainchild of Tilman and Medill sophomore Ryan Morton. Each of the eight students are assigned one of the world’s top eight players or teams for each of the 84 Olympic events. Players receive eight points for each gold medal, four points for each silver medals and two points for each bronze medal their team or athlete wins, Morton said. They earn one point for every fourth- or fifth-place finish.

Each member was also assigned a country for the entire Olympics. Each time their country wins a medal, members get an additional point.

Tilman led for five days by a large point margin until Thursday night, when Medill senior Dan Gotera surpassed him, Morton said. There are no prizes involved. Students said they are participating to give them more incentives to watch the games.

“I didn’t know much about the Olympics before I started this, but now I could pretty much tell you each event and who the big athlete is,” Morton said.

Weinberg senior Dan Platt said the league makes the Winter Games more interactive.

“When I’m watching, this gives me something to watch for,” he said. Platt cheered with Tilman and two other students Wednesday night in a cluttered and dimly lit apartment on Church Street.

Tilman came up with the idea for the fantasy league while covering sports for WNUR. Morton then invited friends to join. Morton took care of logistics and created an elaborate spreadsheet of results that he e-mails to league members every night at midnight. He even created a rule that members must support the United States.

“You still had to cheer for America, above all else,” he said. “Even if you had a German athlete or an Austrian athlete, you still had to cheer for America, first and foremost.”

Some participants commit more time than others.

Platt rolled out of bed Wednesday morning to watch a hockey game between the Czech Republic and Germany. Wednesday afternoon, he skipped class, got lunch nearby from Pita Pete’s and watched the U.S.-Latvia hockey game. In the evening, Platt made dinner and sipped coffee while watching the curling match between the U.S. and Italy. By the end of the day, he had watched about six hours total of Olympic action.

“I did reading for class during intermission and commercials,” he said, adding that he only has two classes.

Other students watched the Winter Games for different reasons and celebrated in different ways. Some said they didn’t have as much time to watch the games as they would like because of schoolwork and extracurricular commitments.

Communication sophomore and snowboarding fan Libby Dearing said she watches the Olympics because she thinks they are more unified than professional sports. She spends between one and two hours each night watching the games on her friend’s HDTV.

“It makes you feel like you’re there,” she said, praising the television.

Weinberg sophomore Brittany Ladd, an avid figure-skating fan, said she likes to watch the games to escape from more serious world issues. She watches for about an hour each day, usually while doing her homework.

“It’s something just above all the stuff that goes on in the regular world,” she said.

Reach Lauren Pond at [email protected]