A fantasy league where fake sports is serious all year long

My Yahoo Fantasy story: A league where fake sports is a year-round passion

Jeff Coffey needed competition.

A former All-America basketball player and, later, a junior college player and head coach, Coffey started playing Fantasy Football way back in 1982, back when it was a far more arduous process: selecting a team by hand, mailing it in and getting your results back a week later. He transitioned to playing fantasy sports online when it became available, but he found that playing in open leagues didn’t guarantee every player would take it seriously.

So in 2003, bringing co-workers, friends and family together, he founded the Boger City fantasy leagues, named after his hometown, a tiny map dot just northwest of Charlotte. Since, it’s grown into a 12-team league that competes not only in football, but basketball, baseball and Tourney Pick’em, making sure the group is competing the entire year.

“Just the competition part is what I’ve always missed about playing or coaching,” Coffey said. “And for this especially — when you have a league as competitive as ours is, where everybody knows everybody and it’s a matter of pride — the competition is definitely there.”

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Even if a team owner has one rough season, they can still compete for the end-of-year trophy. For fantasy purposes, the Boger City year begins with football season and ends at the end of baseball season. It helps keep everyone, including Coffey’s brother-in-law Martin Farrell, involved in every sport.

“I’ve had a pretty serious downturn, and my MLB team is pretty terrible, but I continue to put in my players every day and I work the waiver wire as I go,” Farrell said. “Nobody drops out and just gives up. Players in the past, if they’re not putting their players in, they’re not holding up their end of the bargain, then they get replaced.”

Mark Zoldowski, a long-time friend and co-worker of Coffey, said there was a year where he won the end-of-year trophy with just one season title simply because of consistency across all three sports.

But it’s not just the year-round aspect that sets the Boger City crew apart. Just like the NBA, Coffey uses a weighted lottery system for determining the following year’s draft order, so tanking is discouraged. And the league also uses the keeper feature to the extreme: Every team has six keepers per sport year-to-year, adding a new layer to every transaction.

“I think the second year we were a league we started out with two [keepers],” Coffey said. “Everybody loved it, and teams were working hard during the year to build their team, so we just felt like ‘you’ve worked that hard to build your team; you should be able to keep some of your team.’

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“In most other leagues, any trades you have are gonna be based upon just winning right now, and that’s gonna kind of change the dynamic whereas I might make a trade knowing that that player’s gonna be a good player in the future,” Farrell said.

The ability to build a team over a long period of time is part of what keeps everyone coming back. Most of the league’s members has been around for at least a decade. But it’s more than that: Coffey has gone to impressive lengths to make the league fun and unique with the Boger City Gazette (a weekly email newsletter giving news, updates, analysis, and predictions) and his self-created, mythical Boger City Guru, a prediction expert who has been around since the league’s third season.

“He sets up on Mount Vernon, just a teeny teeny tiny town right outside of Boger City,” Coffey said. “The mountain’s probably 100 feet high. I just introduced him as someone who was gonna start predicting games. If anybody wants to pick against the guru every week, you’re welcome to do so. So we had contests during the year, and the guru always won.”

“It’s always nice to see at the end of the year what happens versus what the guru predictions,” Zoldowski said. “The Boger City Gazette keeps up throughout the year and gives the updates and the stats. It’s always fun to read, and I just think that’s really an added bonus. There’s plenty of other options, but we’ve stayed loyal to Yahoo just because of these guys and this whole thing.”

The group makes sure to get in their trash talk in too. After all, the league is made up entirely of former athletes. One of Zoldowski’s fondest memories comes from a group outing — about half the league — to a Charlotte Knights game. Because the league’s managers are spread out across the nation, it represented a great opportunity to connect with the people he plays against basically every week, every year.

“We rambled on about the different sports that we like and what they would expect and of course talking smack to one another,” he said. “Face-to-face is always better than online.”

Going into its 14th year, the Boger City leagues are as strong as ever. Run by a commissioner who constantly is striving to make the experience as fun as possible and a group of guys always looking to kindle their competitive spirit, fantasy truly never stops. And for a guy like Jeff Coffey, who grew up in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town, that’s all he needs.

“I told my kids one day, ‘I always dreamed about having a log cabin on about 100 acres and not doing anything on the computer,”Coffey said. “But I realized I’d have to have my fantasy sports. I gotta have my fantasy sports.'”